Does the Rift Between Dentistry and Medicine Make Any Sense in Modern Medical Science?


Ever since its formal inception in 1840, dentistry has come a very long way. In its early days, dentistry was only about tooth extraction and closing tooth cavities. In its modern form, dentistry can reshape the way your smile and your jawline looks. It can pinpoint oral cancers with laser accuracy and fix tooth decay without using a single mechanical tool.

This space is indeed far too limited to list out all how modern dentistry has advanced. Have a look at DGY Dentistry and you will get a fair idea of the innumerable sophisticated new procedures and services that are available today. What is even more heartening is this. There is wide acknowledgment in the medical world today about the link between oral health and overall health.

So Why Does the Rift Exist?

The reason behind this is entirely historical in nature. And it all began in the United States. When the first medical schools were founded in the 18th century, they did not include dentistry in their curriculum. This was even though many physicians at the time practiced dentistry and medicine simultaneously. Due to this, dental schools evolved separately, with a different curriculum.

The result of this is that today dentists have a thorough understanding of the oral health of a patient. However, their understanding of the patients’ overall health is limited. When assessing a patient’s dental health, they are unable to take a big picture view. They cannot evaluate whether the dental conditions are due to poor mental health nor can they look for evidence of drug abuse. They cannot check a patient’s risk for stroke or heart attack.

As for the patient, this means that standard medical insurance does not include any kind of dental care. In the United States, Medicare has no dental coverage. As a result, 130 million Americans do not have any access to regular dental care.

The Close Connection Between Oral Health and Overall Health

Poor oral health has rippling psychological effects on a patient. The pain from a tooth infection can cause an individual to miss school or work. Dental problems whether visual or sensory can severely lower a person’s self-esteem. The center for disease control or CDC has estimated that in the US, $6 Billion in industrial productivity is lost every year due to dental health problems. Oral pain resulting in emergency room visits cost another $2 Billion.

Gum diseases and oral inflammation increase the chances for diabetes, cardiac, and other chronic diseases. For example, diabetes reduces the body’s ability to fight off infections which results in gum disease. AIDS which also causes a person’s immunity to start failing results in painful lesions inside the mouth. Dental infection can transmit to a life-threatening blood infection called sepsis. Deamonte Driver, a 12-year-old boy from Prince George’s County, died in 2007 since he could not get a tooth extracted on time.

These facts have been well documented and proven time and again. Yet, dentists and physicians treat oral and other bodily conditions separately. As if the mouth is a separate entity from the body altogether. So I ask you again, does this rift make any sense?

How Can We Combine These Two Fields?

At the educational level itself, the curriculum should be merged. In a system like this, all students are taught the same course till the time specialization is to be made. This initiative has already been started by Harvard, where they have established an oral physician program.

Clinical establishments need to also take the step in merging these two practices. It makes no sense that there is a medical center and a dental center operating side by side but in separate buildings. These new business models need to be created at the corporate level.

Since these two practices never operated under the same umbrella, they never kept records in the same format. Patient information and future record keeping need to be merged for better analysis by doctors.

And finally, payment and insurance systems need to be integrated as well. Governments need to include dental care in their social welfare plans. And insurance providers need to acknowledge the importance of dental health and make it a part of their insurance programs.

Each of these points needs political backing in the administration. For that, it is the dental profession that needs to take the lead in creating public awareness about the issues. Only then will there be a collective sentiment for change.