Doctors and Dentists: Australia’s Growing Oral Health Problem

dental servicesThe dental health of many Australians is not improving, and the divide between doctors and dentists aren’t helping to minimise this problem.

The Medical-Dental Divide

Medicine and dentistry are two distinct practices, and continue to remain separated from each other. The two fields have never been treated the same way by the Australian health care system, health insurance funds, policymakers, public health officials, and even the public. You probably don’t ask your doctor for advice regarding a toothache. Likewise, you probably don’t ask the dentist about a headache or immune system problem.

And yet oral diseases can cause serious problems to the body. Likewise, physical illnesses and trauma can negatively impact your teeth and oral health. Strand& Vale Dental Centre, through their website MyPerthDentist.com.au, say poor oral health has been linked to certain health problems including headaches and migraines, sleep apnoea, snoring, jaw muscle pain, and temporomandibular joint disorders. Other studies even link poor oral health to coronary heart disease, pneumonia, stroke, and adverse pregnancy outcomes.

Increasing Dental Problems

A recent report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reveals little improvement in the dental health of Australians.

There’s been a rise in the average number of children’s baby teeth being affected by decay. The number of adults reporting adverse oral health has also increased. Almost half of children aged 12 years had decay or some type of damages in their permanent teeth.

More than 1/3 of adults report having untreated decay; over half of 64 year olds and over have gum disease, and one in five of them had complete tooth loss.

Joint Treatment Approach

Medical and dental treatments need to join forces to fight the increasing dental problems in Australians; this is the recommendation of Dr. Lesley Russell, a Visiting Fellow at the Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute and a Senior Research Fellow for the Australian National University.

Dr. Russell published a perspective in the Medical Journal of Australia saying doctors and dentists should come together to treat oral diseases. She says dental decay “isn’t just a cosmetic issue, it’s an issue that has very real health consequences, very costly health consequences.” Shared training, recognition of dental services as part of primary care, as well as the inclusion of a patient’s dental record on their medical records are some of the recommended courses of action.

Apart from the cooperation between the medical and dental community, it helps to do something on your own, by making dental health a priority in your home.