Integrating general health and dental health

Although medicine and dentistry have remained separated for many years – separate insurance, separate schools, separate buildings – there is a connection between the health of the mouth and the health of the body. 

If you’re missing teeth or your mouth hurts, it can be difficult to eat healthy food like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Infection in your mouth can spread to other parts of your body, and can increase a person’s risk for heart attack or stroke.

If you have diabetes, you may be more at risk for dental problems, and if you have dental problems, it may be harder to control your blood sugar levels.

Some studies have linked periodontal disease to low birth weight and preterm birth. And the bacteria that causes dental decay can be passed from caregiver to child. It is recommended that children have their first dental visit around age 1, but many children do not have their first visit until after age 3.

    What we’re doing about it

    One of our priorities at the Health Department is to integrate dental health messages and services into primary medical care (and vice-versa), so that Vermonters are receiving comprehensive, coordinated health care, and are aware of how their dental health is related to their general health.

    Public Health Dental Hygienists provide outreach to local medical and dental health care providers. Here are examples of what they do:

    • Encourage prenatal care providers to include messages about the safety and importance of dental care during pregnancy.
    • Provide training for medical doctors about how to assess a child’s risk for dental decay and to apply fluoride varnish or prescribe fluoride supplements if necessary.
    • Help dental care providers feel comfortable working with pregnant women and children beginning at age one.
    • Work with partner organizations through the Vermont Oral Health Coalition to integrate medical and dental health.
    • Encourage medical and dental health care providers to participate in the Smiles for LIfe National Oral Health Curriculum. This is an online series of modules designed to teach medical care providers about dental health. Medical and dental health care providers can earn free continuing education credits by completing the modules.
    • Participate in the From the First Tooth program, which provides in-office training for medical care providers about how to integrate dental health services into their practice setting.
    What you can do

    If you are interested in becoming involved in promoting the integration of general health and dental health, you could join the Vermont Oral Health Coalition, or review the Smiles for Life dental health modules.