Total Health Dentistry: What’s it All About?

By Dr. Susan Maples

What a strange and turbulent time to be in dental practice and leadership. All eyes are on us as to how we navigate for ourselves and our at-risk patients through this systemic disease threat. By now you know that dentists and hygienists are at the very top of the list of occupationally hazardous professions for COVID-19. This leaves many of us feeling anxious and wanting to help.

This is a unique time — when every person asks themselves if they would be at risk of death or disability with an inadvertent COVID-19 exposure. We know that that the most at-risk segment of our population is those who are afflicted with airway disorders, obesity, insulin resistance (the precursor to diabetes) and metabolic syndrome. If you live a typical American lifestyle, these risks more than likely include YOU. But what does any of this have to do with the mouth? Everything!

“The mouth illuminates all the signs, and once you ‘see’ them, it makes it impossible to ‘unsee’ them.”

It wasn’t too long ago that dentists thought the mouth was its own private domain, that not much of what went on in there was linked to the rest of the body — and vice versa. Today, we understand that the most prevalent life-altering and life-threatening conditions we encounter have early telltale signs in the mouth. If you haven’t yet explored these, hang on to your seat — the evidence is staggering.

Only a short time ago, dentists and hygienists didn’t know (for examples) that:

  • Most sleep and airway disorders can be prevented by addressing structural/development concerns in newborns, babies and toddlers.
  • Tooth decay is a preventable bacterial infection passed to babies from their caregivers’ saliva.
  • Periodontal disease is a major risk factor for heart attack, stroke, dementia and erectile dysfunction.
  • Diabetes has a bidirectional relationship with periodontal disease, each making the other worse.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection from oral sex would replace smoking as the single biggest risk factor for oral pharyngeal cancer.

And this list goes on and on!

Our patients’ weakened host-immune response is mostly a result of the most common ailments in our culture: oxygen/sleep deprivation; a defective, sugared-up food supply; and, a sedentary lifestyle. When a patient visits you for his or her three- or six-month preventive appointment, they bring you all the evidence. The mouth illuminates all the signs, and once you “see” them, it makes it impossible to “unsee” them.

It’s time to embrace a personalized model for dental care, focused on far more than your teeth, gums, joints and muscles. By learning to identify the countless links and causes between systemic health and oral health, your entire dental team will soon play critical roles in helping each one of your patients (from age 1-100) live a healthier, happier and sexier life!

In today’s health care environment, which is focused on using a host of medications to put out small fires, helping your patients identify the root cause of their diseases becomes a rare GIFT. From there, helping individualize a wellness track does several things for your practice:

  • With your total health reputation, you will attract patients who value their health from a wide sweep around your practice location.
  • By earning trust, you’ll also earn the right to perform some significant restorative dentistry.
  • By collaborating with other health professionals, you’ll build a remarkable network of co-referral relationships and enhance the quality of your patient base.
  • By focusing on integrative health, you’ll add value to the hygienists’ role and enhanced hygiene profitability through adjunctive testing.
  • Through developing this sought-after niche, you’ll get the golden keys to insurance independence, if that is something you seek.

If you thought enhancing a smile was exciting, try giving someone a new lease on a vital life, while you restore their mouth to optimal health as well. It won’t take long before it becomes your new passion. Total health dentistry is more than a compelling morale builder — it’s a way of life.


Dr. Maples is the founder of Total Health Academy and developer of Hands-on Learning Lab and can be reached at susan@drsusanmaples.com. She is a speaker at the 2021 Florida Dental Convention and will be presenting three courses. On Friday, June 25, “Seeing in the Mouth with Super Powered Eyes: Total Health Dentistry” is at 2 p.m. On Saturday, June 26, “Slaying Dragons: Acid Reflux and Diabetes Detection” is at 9 a.m. and “Creating Powerful Co-referral Relationships with Medical Professionals: Becoming a Practice of Distinction” is at 2 p.m. Register at floridadentalconvention.com.

Reprinted from Today’s FDA, May/June 2021. Visit floridadental.org/publications to view the Today’s FDA archives.

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