Oral health is vital to general health, well-being and quality of life.
The inextricable links between oral and systemic health are becoming increasingly clear. Studies show bidirectional connections between periodontal disease and other chronic diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension. Periodontitis in pregnant women is associated with preeclampsia, preterm birth and low birth weight babies. Oral health issues can lead to malnutrition and childhood speech problems.
Research conducted by the Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM) and our partners points to key benefits from integrating oral health and medicine. These include more frequent screening for associated diseases, improved quality of life, and cost savings to the overall healthcare system. Quality of life issues include the ability to chew, smile, interact socially, or attend work or school without pain.
Most insurance plans offer dental benefits as separate and elective, rather than inclusive benefits within primary health care coverage. Therefore millions of people pay multiple premiums or forgo dental coverage. Others visit a dentist while skipping the physician. Because periodontal and other diseases are connected and share common risk factors—diet, hygiene, smoking, alcohol use, stress and trauma—it is imperative to adopt a holistic, collaborative and integrated approach to health care.
To facilitate an integrated health care approach, the Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM) established the Initiative to Integrate Oral Health and Medicine. This Initiative convenes academics and leaders within the health care community to develop exciting and innovative ideas around the integration of oral health and primary care. Activities undertaken by the Initiative include research, policy statements, conferences and seminars.