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Good Leadership Begins with Changing the Conversation

What might be possible for our patients, our community, and ourselves                                if we stepped fully into a health leadership role?

How much healthier could our community be if we engaged in meaningful health conversations with our patients, with each other, and with other health professionals?

It is writings like Dr. Peter Trainor’s recent article in Dispatch “Engaging in a Different Conversation that Focuses on Health not Health Care” that triggered the above questions.  His article also directed me to read the annual report of Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Just before that, a good friend, who knows of my interest in prevention and leadership, had sent me a copy of the prevention / risk management focused October 2011 issue of the Journal of the California Dental Association. During the same period I had the privilege of hearing Dr Andrew Pipe speak about health and prevention during a Health Day held at Algonquin College.

Here is, in a nutshell, what I learned from this complex mix of information.

While we are exposed to much PINK awareness for breast cancer, the leading cause of death in Canadian women is heart disease and lung cancer is what claims their lives more than breast cancer… Obesity has tripled in the last decade… Physical fitness begins to decline the minute kids enter school… Adolescents, as young as 14, are suffering from adult onset diabetes, a disease with a usual onset in the later part of the fifth decade of one’s life… The incidence of ESRD (end stage renal disease) is skyrocketing… Our focus on finding ever more sophisticated treatments for diseases is failing to address the core issue of our health problems:

We live in an ego driven obesigenic society!

What does this have to do with dentistry? Perhaps not much… Perhaps everything! It all depends on how one looks at it and which dental statistics we tag to the above.

Here are some significant dental statistics to take into consideration.

Despite prevention efforts in every day dental practices, the incidence of erosion has skyrocketed in the last three decades (one recent study found evidence of dental erosion in 57% of 11 to 14 year olds). The incidence of early childhood caries has increased significantly in children 2 to 5. This could be explained by the fact that modern dental practices, despite their apparent preventive efforts, are still treatment oriented and based on outdated diagnostic concepts, and largely governed by the prospect of reimbursement from insurance plans. Here again, our focus on finding ever more sophisticated treatments for diseases is failing to address the core issue of our health problems.

Our obesigenic society also happens to be cariogenic and acidogenic, and clearly, the observations made regarding our general health and oral health are linked.

We all know the importance of understanding the relationship between general health and oral health when treating our patients. What if we applied this logic to prevention? And from there, how could we begin to focus on TOTAL HEALTH promotion in our clinics?

The mouth is the gateway to the rest of the body and as such, because of its easy access for examination and diagnosis, it should hold a prominent position in health. Like the  canary in a mine, the mouth offers clues regarding the state of balance in one’s life and can be a strong  predictor of future health issues. From this point of view… Then… Yes… Contrary to the belief most of us hold for true, what we do about  what we see in the mouth can be life saving!

The type of leadership that raises awareness of the hidden wealth of living healthy lives will have a major impact in 21st century society. From this point of view, because we see our patients more frequently than any other health professionals, as dentists, we are in an ideal position to have a significant impact on transforming our Ego-obesigenic society into an Eco-healthy society.

What will define us will be our ability to embrace the role of movers and shakers in health. 

The scope of total health has eluded us for the longest time and it is only recently that the head (from the point of view of mental and oral diseases) appears to have been reconnected to the rest of the body. Let’s take advantage of this and see what we can do about taking on a leadership role in health.

So, how can we change the conversations in dental offices? This is a very good question, one that can only be answered after we raise our gaze well above the loupes through which we approach our every day work. Yes, what we see on teeth through our loupes demands skilled treatment interventions. What we see in the mouth that is begging for attention with regards to the broader spectrum of TOTAL HEALTH  is something we are also ethically responsible for.

Let’s Talk About Health!

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