Case for Integration

  • Patient and doctor looking at x-ray

    Bringing the Mouth Back into the Body


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 coLink to CDC article, lost productivity due to lack of oral healthnducted 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.Link to ADA research paper about emergency department use for oral care

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.

Harvard Perspectives


R. Bruce DonoffSTAT Article Describes How and Why the HSDM Curriculum Prepares Dentists to Provide a Holistic Approach to Health Care

July 17, 2017

In his Stat News opinion piece, ”It’s time to break down the wall between dentistry and medicine” Dean Donoff, D.M.D. and M.D., professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery and Dean of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, provides insight into how the Harvard School of Dental Medicine is educating dentists so they can play larger roles in the management of their patients’ chronic diseases.

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Photo of Lisa SimonAmerican Journal of Public Health Editorial Addresses Inequities in Oral Health Care

July 6, 2017

In a recent American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) editorial, Oral Health and Medicine Integration: Overcoming Historical Artifact to Relieve Suffering,” Stephen A. Martin, MD, EdM, assistant professor of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and Lisa Simon, DMD, Harvard School of Dental Medicine fellow in Oral Health and Medicine Integration, argue that oral health should increasingly become part of overall health care services and training.

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lisasimonPodcast Weighs the Benefits and Challenges of Reintegrating Dental and Medical Care

February 24, 2017

Dentists take care of our mouths, and doctors take care of the rest of us—but it’s becoming increasingly clear that oral health and overall health are inextricably linked. In this month’s Chew on This podcast, dentist and future physician Lisa Simon talks about the potential benefits and challenges of bringing dentistry and medicine back together after a 150-year separation.

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