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Dental and Oral Health Center

Filling in the Gaps: Your Mouth Shapes Your Health

In today's health conscious era, advancements in medical care mean people are healthier than ever. Dentistry has achieved great success, helping more people keep their teeth longer and healthier; in fact, the Surgeon General concluded in 2000 that there are great gaps among communities of people when it comes to access and quality of oral health care.

Though dentistry has current knowledge and technology on its side, health disparities, or uneven access to healthcare, continue to prevent these advancements from helping everyone. A powerful example of health disparities is the lack of equal and uniform dental care. Though some people see their dentist regularly, not everyone realizes the importance of dental visits or has the ability to see a dentist. What some see as an afterthought may cause danger if ignored and unknowingly develop into a life-threatening condition. The good news is that dentist visits and routine mouth care can make many mouth diseases 100 % preventable.


How your mouth can make you sick

Infection/Inflammation and Gum Disease - When teeth aren't regularly brushed and flossed at home, infection/inflammation can develop in teeth and gums producing larger oral infections/inflammations that can travel throughout the body. Poor mouth care of a mother can even cause illness in her son or daughter. Mothers are often unaware that contact with their child spreads her mouth bacteria and can make her children sick.

It's more important than ever to take care of your teeth with new research that shows a link between gum disease and other conditions in the body including:

Oral Cancer - It is well known that tobacco and alcohol use can lead to oral cancer. What isn't well known is that the only thing that has positively influenced the outcome of oral cancers is early diagnosis and treatment. Most pre-cancerous lesions in the mouth are not obvious to the average person, so seeing a trained dentist is critical to preventing the spread of these cancers.


Who is at risk?

Many people lack the information or resources to get good dental care, and often those are the very people who simply do not realize they are part of this disparity. People who are at risk for receiving less effective dental care include:


What you can do to help yourself and others

Even if money's tight, you and your family need to see the dentist twice a year for cleaning and x-rays. There are ways to get good dental care, even if you have limited resources. A few options include:

Check with your local municipal public health department, dental societies, dental associations, and free clinics for further resources and information. Some websites that can help you find low cost dental care in your area include:

Always keep in mind that the United States government offers aid to those in need of dental care, especially children. Physicians and dentists can receive government reimbursement for applying protective fluoride varnish on teeth for children up to three years of age. Also, Medicaid offers dental coverage for the handicapped and, in some states, will allow dental care to be paid in full for qualifying members under the age of 21. Many dentists offer discounts to people without dental insurance coverage


Help your doctor help you

To fill in the gaps in dental care, new ideas are emerging. Even if you haven't seen the dentist for a long time, your physician can help you and your children have healthier mouths, teeth and gums. Make sure that your physician checks you and your children for common mouth problems. This can get your physician started helping you and your family have a healthier mouth and a healthier body.


Someone's watching over you

Though you are your first line of defense, the medical professionals of tomorrow are bound to play a key role in the future of medicine. Therefore, physicians and dentists are starting to work together to close the gap between related fields. At Case Western Reserve University and other schools around the country, dentists give talks to medical students; medical and dental students work side by side in the same clinical setting; medical residents train in dentistry rotations. Though dentists have historically "owned the mouth," by helping physicians learn about oral issues, the chances of discovering mouth problems early is improving. Working on the same team, they are reaching towards the mutual goal of your optimal health.


Hope Through Research - You Can Be Part of the Answer!

Many research studies are underway to help us learn about dental and oral health. Would you like to find out more about being part of this exciting research? Please visit the following links:


For more information:

Go to the Dental and Oral Health Center health topic, where you can:

This article is a NetWellness exclusive.

Last Reviewed: Jul 12, 2011

Gerald A Ferretti, DDS, MS, MPH Gerald A Ferretti, DDS, MS, MPH
Professor of Pediatric Dentistry
School of Dental Medicine
Case Western Reserve University

James   Lalumandier, DDS, MPH James Lalumandier, DDS, MPH
Professor of Community Dentistry
School of Dental Medicine
Case Western Reserve University