Maximizing the Well-Being of Our Patients through Nutrition
We are facing an epidemic of chronic inflammation, not only in United States, but globally. Chronic inflammation can be manifested in many different ways: cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, rheumatoid arthritis, or periodontitis, cavities and oral ulcers, to name a few. As a periodontist, I know that inflammation of the gums or ulcerations are indicative of someone’s overall health. Just as the eyes are windows to the soul, the mouth is the gateway to one’s health and well-being.
So where is this chronic inflammation epidemic coming from? Mainly, our Standard American Diet (SAD). We see patients who are overfed and undernourished and this wreaks havoc on their bodies inside and outside. Depression is a common phenomena with the SAD diet and lets face it: someone who is depressed is not motivated to live, let alone go to the dentist or brush their teeth.
I believe that we, as dentists have an amazing opportunity here. We can make our communities healthier by incorporating a short nutritional evaluation and encouraging patients to make lifestyle changes that will improve not only their oral health, but their overall health. Statistics show that more people go to the dentist than to see their physician for a physical. Furthermore, unless someone goes to an integrative or functional medicine practice, most physicians do not even discuss the importance of healthy eating. We are not doing any better, either, as dentists. A recent poll shows that only 4% of dental practices offer any form of nutritional counseling. As a periodontist and nutritionist, I know that most dental offices don’t have a nutritional evaluation questionnaire. The easiest way I found is to incorporate this dietary questionnaire as part of the medical history. Part of this should be a list of the patient’s nutritional supplements, as these can cause blood thinning or interaction with some medications.
Nutritional deficiencies manifest in the mouth. Redness at the corners of the mouth, shiny, glossy tongue, burning mouth, bleeding gums, can all be signs of different deficiencies, such as B-6, iron or vitamin A or C. If someone has ulcers on the check or tongue, it may be a sign of food intolerance. If you are not comfortable treating these symptoms, it is important to create a good relationship with a nutritionist in your area to be able to diagnose and treat these problems. I am not a fan of prescribing corticosteroids to mask the problem and not get to the root of it.
Having a dental practice is about creating long lasting relationships with our patients. Some of my patients have benefited more from one advice I’d give them about nutrition than any dental procedure I did for them. Some have told me they will always remember to take a probiotic for example, or that canker sores can be a result of gluten intolerance and that this 5-minute conversation they will never forget. “I have told all my friends about your nutritional advice” is a common thing I hear from my patients. Not only I feel a tremendous amount of satisfaction and joy to help them feel better overall, but also, and there’s nothing more I can ask for than to be brought up in their conversations after they leave my office.
So I encourage you to start talking with your patients about their diet and supplements they take, start changing their lives. Consider taking a class to update your nutritional knowledge. It has come a long way since just a few years ago. It will improve your relationship with your patients because they’ll know you care about their well-being, and also, it’s a great way to generate more referrals.
In great health,