Help Your Patients Have Healthy Smiles
As the first line of defense against illness and disease, family physicians play a key role in promoting good oral health.
Assess Your Patients' Oral Health Risks
Oral diseases, including tooth decay, gum disease, facial pain, and oral and pharyngeal cancers, affect millions of Americans every year, but many of these health issues go undiagnosed or untreated. Family physicians are the first line of defense against illness and disease, and primary care health teams can and should play a role in preventing oral diseases and promoting oral health in individuals of all ages.
It only takes a few minutes to assess oral health risks. Asking questions about where patients get their water (e.g., tap, filters, bottles, etc.), what medications they are currently taking (some cause dry mouth), and whether they regularly see a dentist can help you determine how best to prevent systemic health issues associated with oral diseases.
Questions to Ask Your Patients
- How often do you brush and floss?
- How often do you visit a dentist?
- Do you have a regular dentist?
- Do your gums bleed when you brush your teeth?
- What medications are you taking?
- Where do you get your drinking water?
- Do you smoke or use other tobacco products?
- How many sugary drinks (for example, fruit juice or soda) do you consume per day?
AAFP Partnerships for Oral Health
The AAFP is strengthening its collaborations with other health professionals and organizations regarding oral health. These collaborations among dental and medical professionals can help you to ensure your patients understand that dental health is a crucial part of their overall health.
- AAFP supports the American Dental Association's "Action for Dental Health"(www.ada.org)(www.ada.org) initiative to prevent dental disease before it starts and reduce the proportion of adults and children with untreated dental disease. This partnership includes collaboration on oral health messaging for health care professionals and their patients.
- AAFP is working with the Society for Teachers of Family Medicine to promote a new, comprehensive oral health curriculum, Smiles for Life(www.smilesforlifeoralhealth.org)(www.smilesforlifeoralhealth.org). Family medicine faculty and family physicians can access online courses, downloadable content, information about prevention programs by state, and more, to learn about incorporating oral health services into both classrooms and family practice settings.
- Fluoride has been shown to strengthen teeth and prevent dental caries, yet many patients have concerns about its use. The AAFP has partnered with the Campaign for Dental Health(www.ilikemyteeth.org)(www.ilikemyteeth.org) to help physicians and their care teams effectively promote dental health by educating patients about the benefits and safety of drinking fluoridated water.
Get Involved with the Oral Health Member Interest Group
Connect with family medicine peers who are also interested in promoting oral health issues when you join the AAFP Oral Health Member Interest Group (MIG).
- “Family Physicians Are in a Perfect Position to Address Oral Health,” AAFP NewsGuest Editorial
- “Offering Oral Health Services in Your Office,” Family Practice Management, July/Aug 2014
- AAFP Policy on Fluoridation of Public Water Supplies
- Clinical Preventive Services Recommendation: Dental Caries in Children from Birth through Age 5 Years