Something representing a growing — and promising — trend in the delivery of oral health care arrived in Las Vegas in April.
It was the grand opening of Sahara Health Group, a medical practice embedded in the same location as Sahara Modern Dentistry.
Lulu Tang, D.M.D., who owns Sahara Modern Dentistry, said the co-located practices represent the latest development in a series of partnerships initiated by dental support organization Pacific Dental Services that supports medical and dental integration to improve the overall health of patients.
“I call myself a mouth-body dentist,” said Dr. Tang.
The concept enables patients to be seen by medical and dental professionals who understand the critical link between oral health and overall health.
It’s an initiative that the ADA and the ADA Council on Advocacy for Access and Prevention plan on fostering through outreach and education in the coming year to member dentists as well as to physicians who are an integral partners in advancing and promoting overall health.
PDS’ co-location models the intent of Res. 507RC, passed by the 2022 House of Delegates, which resolved that the ADA support and encourage research, collaboration and appropriate treatment discussions between dentists and other health care providers to help identify systemic disease that are suspected to have a relationship to a patient’s oral health.
“Medical/dental integration in diverse practice models could be one way to achieve health equity and support the advancement of the health of the public, the latter part of the ADA’s mission statement,” said Shailee Gupta, D.D.S., immediate past chair of the ADA Council on Advocacy for Access and Prevention, which drafted the resolution. “Oral health is too often excluded from the rest of the health care system and from conversations about overall health, but recent and ongoing research clearly highlight the mouth-body connection.”
James Mancini, D.M.D., chair of the ADA Council on Advocacy for Access and Prevention, said the resolution is long overdue.
As a general dentist who works in a Pennsylvania hospital, Dr. Mancini said that promoting closer working relationships between dentists and physicians is a “no-brainer.”
On top of promoting treatment to optimize a patient’s oral health status prior to organ transplants, joint replacements, cardiac surgery and other medical procedures, the Council on Advocacy for Access will help to achieve the resolution’s aim by:
• Working with the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology to update the 2012 Consensus Statement to reflect the safety of dental care during all nine months of pregnancy, which will provide opportunity to identify oral and systemic issues previously undetected.
• Working with the newly formed Health Center Advisory Committee to promote medical-dental collaboration within health center settings to increase treatment discussions related to hypertension, diabetes and dental disease management.
• Collaborating with American Academy of Pediatrics to promote oral assessments at pediatric and age-one dental visits.
• Continue to advocate for state Medicaid reforms, which will expand access to care for medically vulnerable individuals, especially the elderly.
“Oral health and overall health are connected, and evidence shows that greater collaboration across medical and dental providers could improve patient health outcomes,” said ADA President George R. Shepley, D.D.S. “Many dentists, community health programs, federally qualified health centers and dental support organizations are already doing this, proving that collaboration works. By reaching out to our medical colleagues and working together hand in hand, the patient will benefit from a whole-body, prevention-first approach to care.”
Research, according to the ADA Science & Research Institute, shows that harmful bacteria and inflammation in the mouth can indicate and even cause systemic conditions throughout the body. Periodontal disease has been connected to systemic health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, pre-term/low-weight births, cancer and more.
Conversely, the link is often bidirectional. Many systemic diseases, conditions and even medications can affect a patient’s oral health.
Pacific Dental Services has long advocated for closer collaboration between dental and medical professionals to improve health outcomes for patients, said Stephen E. Thorne IV, founder and CEO of Pacific Dental Services.
“This unique partnership is another important step towards establishing integrated care, enabling patients to receive comprehensive oral health care and medical care in the same location, and bridging the gap between clinicians so they can improve health outcomes for all patients,” Mr. Thorne said.