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Health +Tech | The mouth as a window to overall health

Published:Saturday | October 9, 2021 | 12:08 AMDouglas Halsall - Contributor
Douglas Halsall.
Douglas Halsall.
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We don’t often consider the importance of oral health to our overall well-being. The focus tends to be on extracting teeth that have gone bad rather than creating a holistic oral healthcare plan and matching the record and diagnoses to people’s larger health realities. If we are to begin to focus on holistic health and wellness, oral health must be a part of the equation.

The emergence of non-communicable diseases, which are common among our population, can often be observed first in the oral cavity. Diabetes, for example, can present as legions in the mouth or infection of the gum. A study conducted by Harvard Medical School and published in Harvard Health Publishing online in February this year, indicated that “People with gum disease (also known as periodontal disease) have two to three times the risk of having a heart attack, stroke, or other serious cardiovascular event.”

The research further indicated that although “to date, there’s no proof that treating gum disease will prevent cardiovascular disease or its complications ... the connection is compelling enough that dentists (and many doctors) say it’s yet another reason to be vigilant about preventing gum disease in the first place”.

There are several other conditions that are caused by poor oral hygiene, including cancer, sepsis and some complications of pregnancy. We often do not think of this field of medicine as essential to our care, but more and more, it is being proven that oral healthcare must be a part of healthcare planning and effective delivery. Technology has for years been a part dentistry, but has still not factored in modern practices as a linked system with electronic health records (EHR) that complements, compares or uses patients’ information from their medical records from doctors’ offices or hospitals. This must change if we seek to improve oral health specifically, and the holistic health of our population in any meaningful way.

The health information management system is designed to link all aspects of patients’ medical care within the health ecosystem. This includes dental. An interconnected health system is essential to proper healthcare management. The technology can facilitate a total view of patient’s health, which can create linkages and allow for complete mapping of patient’s health for better understanding and decision-making. This would be incomplete without dental as a part of the health ecosystem.

A modular system – such as that which is being used by The University of the West Indies – would be ideal for any medical facility that is introducing health technology. This is because dental practices, for example, are usually smaller and do not need the extensive departmental modules that would be most appropriate in a hospital setting. However, the system would still need to have the ability to be extended once a practice grows and be interoperable so that it can be linked with other aspects of healthcare such as pharmacy and a national EHR system, once this is put in place. This would significantly improve the health data available and give the Government the ability to do long-term planning in all areas of healthcare and properly respond to and prepare for future health issues.

Once the data is available to provide a full picture of health, it will allow for the type of analytics and forecasting that can improve the quality of healthcare that we offer as a country, because we would have a complete understanding of what is required to achieve our health goals. All aspects of healthcare are important for this, and it’s why we must include oral health.

Until we ensure that all aspects of health are incorporated into healthcare management and analysis, we will not be able to fully plan and manage the health of the country. Ensuring that oral health is given as much prominence as other aspects of healthcare is essential to achieving this goal.

Doug Halsall is chairman and CEO of Advanced Integrated Systems. Send feedback to doug.halsall@gmail.com.