Medical and dental treatments need to be linked to combat a rise in tooth decay and oral disease in Australians, says the author of a perspective published in the Medical Journal of Australia.
Dr Lesley Russell, a Visiting Fellow at the Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute in Canberra, believes the time has come to end the “medical–dental divide”.
“Medicine and dentistry remain distinct practices that have never been treated the same way by the health care system, health insurance funds, public health professionals, policymakers and the public,” Dr Russell wrote.
And yet oral diseases can ravage the rest of the body, and physical illnesses and trauma can affect oral health.
Poor oral health has been linked to infective coronary heart disease, stroke, adverse pregnancy outcomes and pneumonia.
A recent report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) found that Australians’ dental health has not improved.
There’s been a rise in the average number of children’s baby teeth affected by decay and an increase in the number of adults reporting adverse oral health.
Nearly half of all children aged 12 years had decay in their permanent teeth.
Over one-third of adults had untreated decay, more than 50% of people aged 65 years and more had gum disease and one in five had complete tooth loss.
Dr Russell said dental and medical professionals need to partner in delivering health care including shared training, recognition of dental services as a part of primary care and the inclusion of dental information on patient records
A Dental Health Service Corps made up of dentists and dental staff, doctors be established.
“It is time for governments, health professionals, policy makers and community groups to put their money where their mouths are and act together to improve the oral health of all Australians, so that in the future the only gap-toothed Australian smiles are those indicating a visit from the tooth fairy,” Dr Russell said.
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