It’s good to hear conversations in dentistry about the Oral Systemic Connection. For those of us who have always seen the body as an elegant, fully integrated, balanced system this is good news. At my annual physical when my internist asks me if I floss my teeth I smile. Too often it seems that doctors — and patients — see the mouth as separate from the rest of the body.
We still have a lot to learn and a long way to go in caring for this system called the human body. If I have a sore right knee the typical medical approach is still anti inflammatory meds, and maybe a scan of that knee. If the pain gets worse: pain meds, maybe physical therapy, surgery. In this age of medical enlightenment can anyone really believe that a sore right knee might not in some way be related to feet, hip joints, or maybe even shoulder and jaw position?
It occurs to me that with all the talk in dentistry about the Oral Systemic Connection, the system that seems to get the least attention is the musculoskeletal system. Muscles and joints affect every other system in the body: circulation, digestion, respiration, etc. Dentistry has so much to offer patients in regard to how systemic health is impacted by this system. We work with it every day, but we have not been as effective as we could be at helping patients see the connections.
Maybe occlusion is boring. Or we’re tired of trying to convince our patients that their neck pain may be related to grinding or clenchimg. Maybe, as a dentist friend remarked somewhat tongue in cheek, muscles and joints just aren’t sexy enough. But what if we created conversations about alignment as an entry point to a truly comprehensive approach to care? What if we could step outside of the procedure based insurance model of treatment to help our patients see us as true healers who can help them have a better quality of life?
A whole body, Oral Systemic approach to dental health requires more than just informing our patients about new scientific reports of each systemic connection.
Rather, it invites us to step back and look at our patients differently; to see each one as a whole person. It requires that we ask questions with concern and compassion for their overall health, whether or not we have a solution to their problem. When there is a dental component. it asks us to help them see relationships between symptoms through questions, conversations, experiences, and specific information as to how we can help them to live better.
What if you viewed every interaction with every patient as an opportunity to raise their awareness about how important alignment is to their health? What if everyone on the team took a minute or two to ask questions of patients — young and old — to raise their curiosity, and help them see patterns they may not see? What if, instead of “accusing” patients of grinding their teeth we used muscle exams as a way of gently helping them tune into subtle changes in their muscles and joints?
Maybe we could help them avoid pain and breakdown. Maybe, instead of thinking we are trying to sell them something they do not need, more of our patients will see us as trusted advisors who have their best interest at heart. Maybe gradually, over time, more patients would connect the dots, see their bodies as intricate, complex systems, and ask for the care we are so well qualified to provide.