Reading a piece in Raconteur recently, I came across a sentence above which, in seven words, rather adroitly (and hopefully slightly provocatively) summed up the true importance of oral health. Perhaps it is time to turn health on its head - almost literally - and simply put oral health first in line in the healthcare queue. Quite simply, oral health supports and reflects the health of the entire body.
Hardly a new concept, I hear you say. Indeed not - in 1910, in an address given in Montreal, the physicianWilliam Hunter asserted that he had observed many patients seriously ill with various general disorders which were improved by the extraction of infected teeth. And while I'm meandering down the historical lanes, Benjamin Franklin was addressing fire-threatened Philadelphians in 1736 with the entreaty that 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure', a famous axiom that could be just as applicable to oral health today.
Fast forward to 2014 and the European Federation of Periodontology's manifesto 'Periodontal Health for a Better Life', which promotes a fundamental shift in the role of dental healthcare professionals. This approach is described in an excellent paper in the British Dental Journal1 by Professors Iain Chapple and Nairn Wilson, calling for a paradigm shift in the perception of dental professionals' responsibilities with regard to achieving the general health of patients. Patients' needs will be best met through dental and medical groups developing collaboratively and applying multidisciplinary guidelines for patient care, irrespective of the patient's presenting location.
Powerful stuff - and I strongly believe, three years on from this, that there is still a golden opportunity for the dental team to become integral to general healthcare provision. More research will be required, perhaps focused less on the mechanistic links between oral health and general health, and more on the delivery of risk-informed preventative healthcare in a dental setting.
So I'll leave you with a final question. There can be no denying the importance of oral health in this context. So why didn't dentistry even get a mention in the NHS Five Year Forward View2, published in October 2014, or in this year's 'Next steps on the NHS Five Year Forward View'3?
1 British Dental Journal 2014: 216;159-162
Henry writes a regular column in our Insight magazine, available to all member dentists. To find out more about how to become a member, click here.