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.

Ain’t That the Tooth!

“Ain’t that the Tooth” is a podcast by the South Florida District Dental Association (SFDDA) that takes you into the lives of its members and their perspective on all kinds of topics in and out of dentistry.

Last summer, the SFDDA board met to discuss plans for the upcoming year. After much discussion, plans to increase its social media and digital presence were agreed upon. Additionally, an ambitious project was proposed: a podcast.

The SFDDA created a podcast that would air every other week to all dentists and available through most, if not all, podcast-streaming apps.

After setting up a studio at the SFDDA office in Coral Gables and recording a few sessions, “Ain’t That the Tooth,” launched on Feb. 3, 2021, and hit 100 downloads within the first two weeks! The reviews have been positive and encouraging.

The podcasts have covered such topics as finding the right associate, student issues and membership. There also will be future episodes that will talk about work-life balance, practicing with your mother or father, and even more personal topics. If you have an idea for a conversation topic and would like to be on the podcast, contact the SFDDA at southfloridadistrict@gmail.com.

“Ain’t That the Tooth” can be found on all major platforms, such as Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio and Pandora.


Excerpt taken from the SFDDA Winter Newsletter.

Are You Prepared for Hurricane Season?

June 1 is the official start of the 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season! Don’t let that important date pass you by without reviewing your storm readiness plan and ensuring you have the right coverages in place to protect your practice. Creating an airtight plan now will give you the peace of mind to focus your attention on other challenges your dental practice may face in the coming months. 

Here are a few points to keep in mind this season:

  • Flood policies have a 30-day waiting period before they become effective.
  • Your office insurance could have some gaps that leave you vulnerable to storms (i.e., wind damage coverage). FDA Services (FDAS) can help identify and fill those gaps.
  • It is important to review the value of your building and its contents every few years to ensure that you have enough coverage.

Call or text FDAS at 850.681.2996 to review your coverage today!

2021 Hurricane Guide

Make sure you check out the 2021 FDAS Hurricane Guide, “Storm Proof,” which is full of helpful resources that will help you prepare for this year’s hurricane season with plenty of time to spare.

Trust Your Instincts

By Dr. Becky Warnken

Occasionally, patients remind us why we matter in ways bigger than we can imagine. I don’t have to tell anyone that 2020 was a challenging year as a dentist and practice owner. We all know that. In the middle of the summer, when COVID-19 cancellations were still very much a challenge in our practices and shortly after the World Health Organization had released a statement saying that routine dental care should be postponed, was one such time.

During this period, I saw a 69-year-old female patient for a routine hygiene exam. I begin each exam by palpating for lymphadenopathy. Immediately, my gut told me something wasn’t right when I discovered her right sublingual lymph node was firm, rigid and markedly abnormal from the left side. The patient had a history of cancer years before. I didn’t want to panic the patient, but I didn’t want her to take this lightly or ignore it either. I finished my exam and then sat her up. I showed her the lymph node and had her palpate it herself. We discussed her history and I stressed that this needed further evaluation. I wrote down exactly what description she needed to give her primary care physician (PCP) of the lymph node when she called to make an appointment. She stated that it hadn’t been more than six months since she had seen her PCP, and that nothing had come back abnormal at her last regular appointment. I assured her that we would just rather be safe than sorry, and she agreed. She called her PCP immediately upon leaving my office.

Two weeks later, my office received a phone call from this patient. She told Sandy at my front desk, “I don’t want to bother Dr. Becky, she is busy. But I need you to thank her for me. I need you to thank her for catching my cancer. I am entering Moffitt now for a workup and I don’t have a lot of time either, but please just tell her thank you.” She started crying. Sandy started crying. When Sandy told me, I started crying. I was devastated that my patient was facing a cancer diagnosis. I was simultaneously so thrilled that she had come in for her routine exam and that I hadn’t ignored my instincts. She’s undergoing treatment and, at our last update, her prognosis was good.

The physician assistant students I teach at the University of Tampa always ask how you know something is abnormal, or when you should insist something has a further evaluation. My answer is always the same: If you aren’t sure, insist that they return in two weeks. If the abnormal spot or lymph node hasn’t changed, then you know it is worth further investigation. However, sometimes you just know something isn’t right and you can usually help the patient realize the same and guide them to further care. Trust your instincts. This is the one time when a patient will be truly grateful your instincts were wrong if it is nothing, and even more grateful you followed them if you are correct.

It is my daily mission to stress to my patients and my peers the importance of our role as essential health care providers. Even in our day-to-day routine, what seems like a mundane exam can save lives. We can change lives with a smile, and we can save lives with a routine exam. As oral health care providers, we are essential and should not be undervalued. You matter to your patients. I pray you never forget it!

Reprinted from Today’s FDA, Jan/Feb 2021. Visit floridadental.org/publications to view Today’s FDA archives.