Last year, researchers published a study in Journal of Clinical Periodontology linking gum disease to higher risks of complications from COVID-19, including intensive care unit admission and death. The data revealed that COVID-19 patients with gum disease were almost nine times more likely to die from the virus than those without gum disease.
These results are consistent with what many in the medical and dental communities have known for a long time: oral and medical health are inextricably linked, and dental care directly affects the health of the rest of the body.
As diseases such as COVID-19 and monkeypox threaten public health, greater alignment between the healthcare and dental industries is increasingly important. Furthermore, the implementation of scalable technologies that enable improved preventive care and early detection will be vital to maintaining patient health and avoiding disease in both dental and medical settings.
The separation between medical and dental care does no one any good. Dentistry is health care, but there has long been an artificial division between dental and medical care in the United States, creating the belief that dental care is an optional luxury—nice to have, but not necessary.
But like Journal of Clinical Periodontology The study shows that the more we learn about the relationship between oral and physical health, the clearer it becomes that the gap between the two is detrimental to the patient’s health. More than 40 years ago, the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) oral health reports highlighted how harmful the dental care delivery system in the United States was.
The IOM has reported for decades that our dental system is failing to deal with the two most common oral diseases, tooth decay and periodontal disease. Research shows that poor oral health correlates strongly with chronic disease. Early identification and intervention of oral disease is one of the best and easiest paths to better overall health and can significantly reduce some of the most pressing health problems in our society. The evidence is clear: the dentist is an essential part of ensuring the health of the whole body.
Advancing Preventative Care with Dental AI
We typically think of artificial intelligence (AI) as a charting or billing-only tool, but it has tremendous potential to improve both clinical outcomes and practice efficiency. Comprehensive patient care depends on timely, accurate and complete identification of all cases of disease, and in many cases can begin as early as the dentist’s office. Many chronic diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and early dementia, can be detected (and treated) earlier with proper oral health care.
In dentistry and all other areas of healthcare, AI needs to be effective in different patient populations and help providers make the most accurate diagnoses. This helps ensure the most appropriate treatment recommendations and extends the opportunity to strengthen patient confidence. Widespread use of dental AI supports medical-dental integration (MDI) by significantly improving the ability to predict or flag systemic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes. This would be a vital step in generating meaningful healthcare transformation by reducing caries disparities and supporting populations with both unmet oral health needs and associated chronic diseases.
A bridge to better health
The connection between oral and overall health is inextricable, and AI is beginning to eradicate the historical divide between dentistry and other forms of healthcare. This technology has the capacity to positively impact the lives of hundreds of millions of citizens in the US and billions around the world. The growing desire among Americans for comprehensive oral and traditional medical care, combined with modern technologies entering the market, malmost certainly makes a significant disruption to our existing model of care.
Hillen is the founder and CEO of
VideaHealth, a dental AI company working with leading dental support organizations, insurers and other companies in the dental industry.