Say 'systemic.' Then head off in a different direction

May 1, 2011
A billboard here off a turnpike states in big letters: "One in five Tulsa babies go hungry!" Only one? I thought all humans, regardless of age, felt hunger ...

by Mark Hartley
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A billboard here off a turnpike states in big letters: "One in five Tulsa babies go hungry!" Only one? I thought all humans, regardless of age, felt hunger pangs after several hours. The good ol' boys of Oklahoma, of course, are just pointing out that 20% of infants in Tulsa don't get enough nourishment and are in some stage of starvation.

Boiling a complex health issue down to a marketing catch-all phrase runs its risks. Charities obviously shouldn't even be spending a large percentage of funds on marketing, since donations are expected to address "the problem." Journalists often help define a crisis within a community. But unless an infant dies as a result of starvation, and makes the front page or a website's home page, related aricles are often missed by a large percentage of the audience.

In addition, Americans are typically beseiged by requests to react to a seemingly unending list of health concerns in this country.

One in five RDH editors have thinning hair.

One in five RDH editors is as deaf as a doornail.

One in five RDH editors has fading eyesight.

Please send donations to the address listed in this magazine. (Actually, I'm doing fine, other than being an old cuss who asks you to repeat much of what you say and who favors bright lights for reading purposes. As for the scalp, it's a very low priority to me.)

We've now added to the laundry list of health issues one of our own – oral systemic health. There's nothing to minimize about it – more than a catch-all phrase is needed for the rather serious connection between oral health and a variety of other physical ailments, including some that are life-threatening.

There has to be a happy medium between "leukocyte counts, CRP, and serum amyloid-A" and "Mac, if you toss this floss that I'm giving you, you're gonna die of a heart attack."

Karen Davis starts a new column in this issue of RDH, "Perio Team." Her first topic is the oral systemic connection. The goal here is to keep all dental professionals headed in the same direction. It's not necessary for each dental professional to develop his or her own interpretation of the flood of information.

Karen wrote, "These are only a sample of ways to engage patients in conversations that help them realize the importance that oral health has on overall health and visa versa. A great team meeting exercise is to brainstorm together various methods that members of the dental team can initiate oral systemic conversations with patients. We want to give our patients good reasons to keep coming back to our practice. Proactively informing patients about recent studies or news related to periodontal health and cardiovascular health, diabetes, respiratory diseases, pregnancy, or Alzheimer's disease reminds them that your office maintains a commitment to stay abreast of important information about their health."

The "sample" referred to in the quote is a list of resources she provides for staying informed about research and current information on oral systemic health.

The only thing I would add to Karen's list of systemic health resources is the American Dental Association and the American Dental Hygienists' Association.

God bless our professional associations. I'll be the first to admit that I scratch my head sometimes and wonder why they did this or that. The bureaucracies within the organizations are sometimes too slow or even prone to miscalculations – just like the rest of us. But they remain our overall national voice in guiding the profession and public on this issue, and we should heed their leadership when appropriate.

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