SAN JOSE, Calif.
— A few years ago, the idea of dental care wasn’t the kind of thing you would even think of considering as an option for people with chronic health issues.
But the idea is now mainstream and, according to the National Association of Dental Hygienists, that’s thanks to the growth of new therapies that are being taught in schools and in community health centers, such as a “bio-mechanical” treatment for tooth decay.
And while that may seem like a minor detail to a consumer, dentists are often tasked with providing the necessary care in the face of such issues as dental caries, cavities and dental disease.
So as more and more Americans find themselves facing the challenges of chronic disease, and the demand for new solutions for managing these challenges, the American Dental Association (ADA) is urging the American public to consider alternative health approaches.
“The ADA is urging dental professionals to take a look at the alternative medical options available to them, and consider the possibilities of alternative dental care,” said Nancy T. DeAngelis, ADA president and CEO.
“Dentists should take this opportunity to evaluate the possibilities and potential benefits of a range of alternative health therapies,” she said.
The ADA says alternative health services can help people who have chronic diseases manage their health and provide better dental health for people who are at higher risk for health issues such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.
In order to learn more about the benefits and risks of alternative therapies, the ADA recommends that consumers search for a dental hygienist by searching for “alternative health” or “alternatives” on their state’s consumer health insurance website.
The agency also recommends looking at a provider’s online and in-person resources, such a news website, a dentist’s association website or a health care professional.
“For those who have a dental health history, a lot of our members know someone who has a chronic health issue,” DeAngeles said.
“If we can’t talk to them about their health issues, we don’t know if we’re going to be able to help them.”
As dental hydrators and toothpaste have become more accessible, the number of people who consider alternative therapies a viable option for their own health has grown.
In a survey by the American Hospital Association and American Dietetic Association, an average of nearly 30% of respondents reported that they had used alternative health products at least once in the last year, compared to about 9% in 2012.
The ADA and other dental groups have been working to increase the use of alternative medicines.
According to DeAngelos, the association has encouraged dentists to consider using “healthful products” like acupuncture, homeopathy and acupuncture-based therapy.
DeAngelis said that many of the alternatives are being offered at home and are less expensive than the typical medical device.
“There are many things that we know are going to provide better health than conventional treatments, but there are a number of things that are going a long way,” she added.
“So I think it’s important to make sure that we have access to all of the tools that we need to be healthy and successful, including complementary and alternative health and dietary therapies.”
For example, DeAngelas said that the ADA is currently working with a private dental practice to promote the use and safety of a complementary health treatment for people over age 50 that has been shown to have significant benefits.
Dental hygeneists who are working with consumers are encouraged to include in their practices and education materials all of these complementary health treatments.
Deangelis said the ADA will work with health care providers and dental hydners to help promote alternative medicine as part of their health care delivery and practice.
“We want to encourage them to do that in their practice, their schools, their community health organizations,” she explained.
For those with diabetes, the new therapies offered through the ADA and the ADA’s Healthy Living and Active Families program are a huge step in the right direction, Deangelas said.
DeAngeles and the other ADA members hope that the growing number of alternative treatments will allow people to manage their dental health, find alternative therapies and take control of their lives.
“One of the biggest things we are looking at is a change in how the health care industry looks at health care,” Deangeles said, adding that there is a lot more focus on prevention.
“We are going from treating dental health to managing dental health,” she concluded.