Podcast interview sheds light on the oral-systemic connection
You could say Dr. Chuck Reinertsen’s interest in connecting the mouth to overall health began many, many years ago when he was a Boy Scout. “We learned about infections and how to clean a wound,” he told Dr. Jesse Green during a recent interview on The Savvy Dentist Podcast. That knowledge of caring for infections stuck with him until dental school. “We asked some of the instructors: ‘What about the infections in the mouth? Aren’t they going to get in the bloodstream?’” Dr. Chuck says they were told no because of an oral barrier, a myth he says has since been debunked.
Fast forward to around 2012. Dr. Chuck came across some research from The American Academy for Oral Systemic Health that showed bacteria in the mouth can travel to the heart, pancreas, and other parts of the body and lead to dangerous health problems. As a dentist who had been practicing for three decades, this oral-systemic connection clicked for Dr. Chuck. It fueled his passion for oral health care and for educating patients about the importance of caring for their mouth to preserve overall health.
The Savvy Dentist Podcast interview features an in-depth discussion about the health of the mouth and its impact on the rest of the body.
“My question as time has gone by is, ‘Why don’t we include the mouth when we’re looking at someone’s health?’” he told Dr. Green during the podcast. “So, that’s what we’ve tried to do in our office is help people connect the dots between the infections they have in their mouth that are pain-free that affect the heart, the brain, the whole body.”
Dr. Chuck refers to this key document in his quest for more research into the mouth’s connection to overall health: the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health in America, which was published in 2000 but still holds powerful information even today, 22 years later.
Dr. Green asked about the diseases that are linked to poor oral health. “Cardiovascular disease is a biggie,” Dr. Chuck says. Research published in the British Medical Journal proves that periodontal disease is a contributing cause of cardiovascular disease.
“That’s a huge word – ‘are causative for cardiovascular disease,’” Dr. Chuck told Dr. Green’s listeners. “When you replace a heart valve, why did it go bad? Well, it’s full of bacteria. What kind of bacteria? It’s oral bacteria, is most of them. And for cardiovascular disease it’s the periodontal bacteria that’s causing it. So they’re finding it everywhere – is causative. That’s a big deal right there.”
These health issues are what Dr. Chuck hopes his patients will avoid. The problem, he explains, is most dentists, patients, and doctors don’t communicate effectively about oral health. There’s a disconnect between dentists and doctors that he wants to fix through his work with The Dental Medical Convergence.
“This is an uphill battle. So what we’re doing is trying to go to dentists and then directly to the patients,” Dr. Chuck says. “But if the dentist can understand the link and grasp the significance of oral health, how it affects that, and if the patients of that dentist understand that this dentist is not just a tooth mechanic, he’s actually a health care provider, then your reputation goes way up with those patients. Because this is somebody who’s interested in not just my teeth and my smile and my chewing, but my whole body.”
He also hopes people will understand that the more time you spend at home caring for your teeth, the less time you’ll need to spend at the dentist and possibly the doctor.
“The less time you spend taking care of your teeth at home, the more time you spend in my chair and the more money it’s going to cost you,” he says. “What would you rather do?”
You can listen to Dr. Chuck and Dr. Green’s entire discussion here.