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Conference addresses dental-medical links

​​​​​​"Closing the Chasm Between Medicine and Dentistry" was the ambitious theme of a recent conference held in Marshfield. 

Keynote speaker David M. Krol, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, is team director and senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Keynote speaker David M. Krol, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, is team director and senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

​"While we can't yet say the goal has been achieved, we have a good start in thinking about this" noted Amit Acharya, B.D.S., M.S., Ph.D., the conference director.

Dr. Acharya, a dental informatics scientist at Marshfield Clinic Research Institute (MCRI) and a dentist and biomedical information by background, said the regional oral-systemic health conference served its purpose. It brought together about 100 dental, medical and research professionals from a region bordered roughly by the Twin Cities and Milwaukee, as well as nationally recognized experts.

The connection between a healthy mouth and healthy body is the basis for oral and systemic health research. This research focuses on the links between diseases in the mouth and diabetes, heart disease and preterm births.

"There is a growing recognition that oral health is part of overall health," Acharya said. "Just because medical and dental practices are separate doesn't mean the information should be separated. At the least, we need to get moving on the process of integration of information."

Physicians and dentists have long known about the health links between oral health and diabetes, for example. The problem has been how to share this information between the two disciplines, which have separate types of practices and separate medical record systems. Nationally, most dental practices are small solo providers while the trend in medicine has been toward large practices such as Marshfield Clinic.

Dr. Acharya and his associates in MCRI's Biomedical Informatics Research Center have been developing a combined health record that serves both medical and dental professionals. But there are still cultural issues to overcome.

"Should a dental exam be part of a well-child visit, and could the dentist's office check our data base to see if a child they are seeing has been immunized? Will people understand why they are getting weighed at the dental office? We need to inform them of what's going on," Dr. Acharya noted.

Dr. Acharya believes this process may take his entire life and beyond to come to fruition.

"We're just at the beginning but there is a lot of support for this. Some conference participants suggested that this is just theory at this point, and wondered how it could be put into practice. It might have to be translated into best practice guidelines for physicians and dentists.

"Think about it from a simple perspective. If there is infection in your mouth or in your tooth, if it goes into the blood stream, it can travel anywhere in the body. It's as simple as that," Dr. Acharya said. "Just because we have different models from a care provider perspective or an insurance perspective, these pathogens don't recognize those barriers. They're going to cross over."

This program was funded in part by an unrestricted educational grant from Dental Crafters, Marshfield.