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Dentistry meets medicine at Stanford University

San Francisco—A series of lectures at the Stanford University School of Medicine is bringing dentists and physicians together to further an understanding of the connections between oral and systemic health.

Image: Dr. Patel
Dr. Patel

It’s the brainchild of Dr. Hema Patel, a Fremont, Calif., dentist and a 2011 graduate of the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership. Recognizing that Stanford has no dental school, Dr. Patel approached faculty at the University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry and volunteered to develop an educational program for Stanford faculty and medical residents and students.

“My goal was to collaborate on an oral health curriculum in medical schools,” said Dr. Patel. “Residents and students should have more oral health education than is usually offered at medical schools. Everything that happens in the oral cavity reaches the rest of the body, and patients are living longer with more chronic illnesses. All health professionals can better serve their patients if they have a sound knowledge of oral health.”

Stanford medical faculty, residents and students have been invited to attend the following lectures that began in January and conclude this month: What a Physician Should Know About Oral Health; Metabolic Concerns in Oral Health; Maternal and Child Oral Health; Cardiovascular Disease and the Oral-Systemic Connection; Salivary Diagnosis; and Dental Trauma.

The California Dental Association gave the program a boost with a $3,000 grant. In developing the lectures, Dr. Patel worked with faculty members Dr. Allen Wong of Pacific and Dr. Sabine Girod of Stanford. Dr. Wong is the director of Pacific’s hospital dentistry program for medically compromised patients and patients with developmental delays—an educational program that emphasizes the importance of collaboration between dentists and physicians.

“There are many studies that suggest a relationship between oral disease and systemic disease,” said Dr. Wong, who is presenting two lectures: What a Physician Should Know About Oral Health, and Cardiovascular Disease and the Oral-Systemic Connection. “The articles do not necessarily show a causal relationship but certainly there are connections. Patients that are being treated for chronic illnesses should have primary care providers trained to recognize early preventable dental disease and make appropriate referrals.” 

Dr. Patel came along at an opportune moment for Stanford.

“We have been exploring ways to collaborate in these areas,” said Dr. Girod, a dentist and physician who is chief of the Stanford University oral medicine and maxillofacial surgery service. “This is great first step in order to expand these types of opportunities for residents and faculty. 

“The faculty have enjoyed these programs,” continued Dr. Girod. “We very much appreciate the support of the ADA and Dr. Patel. This has been a fantastic program.”

“I am very grateful for Dr. Patel’s leadership in facilitating the Stanford and Pacific relationship,” added Dr. Wong. “We have received very positive responses from the physicians that attend. It is our hope that we continue to supplement oral health education to the medical community and collaborate on future research and joint continuing education programs.”

Dr. Patel developed the lecture series for the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership, which requires participants to select projects that provide them with hands-on experience in identifying and taking action on a civic or professional issue of personal importance. (For more information about the Institute, visit ADA.org/diversityinstitute).

She credits her mentors from the Institute with giving her the tools to present her ideas and explore collaborations between the practice and educational communities. She said the lecture series is worth replicating.

“We’re hoping to be able to continue to do this and that we can reach out to other universities and develop similar programs,” said Dr. Patel. “If there is more collaboration, patient health will improve.”