Oral health truly is systemic health, as the panelists at a Capitol Hill Briefing hosted by Research!America agreed. At the October 10 briefing, moderated by Beth Truett of Oral Health America, participants heard about the ways that research on oral health contributes to systemic health and the importance of educating all health practitioners about the significance of oral health.
Martha Somerman, DDS, PhD, Director of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) at the National Institutes of Health, described how her institute was founded in 1948 to address a severe epidemic of caries [cavities]. “Many people think dental research is all about caries,” she said, but “most recently we’ve increased the work in our clinical center which looks at not just periodontal health but understanding rare diseases, cancers, genetic makeup, and new therapies.”
Maria Ryan, DDS, PhD, Vice President and Chief Dental Officer at Colgate and President of the American Association for Dental Research (AADR) described the work of the AADR, whose mission is to advance research and increase knowledge for oral health. She quoted former Surgeon General of the United State C. Everett Koop in saying, “You are not healthy without good oral health.” The challenge, she said, is “convincing both physicians and laypeople that without oral health, you are not healthy.” She added that “bacteria can be couriers of disease, increasing your risk for other diseases like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and spontaneous preterm births. Chronic tooth infections can kill more than a smile.”
Marko Vujicic, PhD, Chief Economist and Vice President of the American Dental Association Health Policy Institute, pointed out the socioeconomic impacts of oral health, noting that, “We have 30% of low-income adults in the U.S. saying that the condition of their mouth and teeth is so bad that it affects their ability to interview for a job.”
Research, the panel agreed, is making a difference. Dr. Ryan explained: “We know that most of the diseases we treat in the oral cavity are due to risk factors, bacteria, and inflammation. We’ve learned so much more about the bacteria we are addressing, and how people respond to those bacteria. We continue to learn more every day because of the funding coming into the NIDCR.”