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Last year, researchers published a study in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology linking gum disease to higher risks of complications from COVID-19, including ICU admission and death. The data revealed that COVID-19 patients with gum disease are nearly nine times more likely to die from the virus than those without gum disease.

These findings are consistent with what many in the medical and dental communities have long known: oral and medical health are inextricably linked, and dental care has a direct impact on the health of the rest of the body.

As diseases such as COVID-19 and monkeypox threaten public health, better alignment between the health and dental sectors is becoming increasingly important. Additionally, the implementation of scalable technologies that enable improved preventative care and early detection will be key to maintaining patient health and preventing disease in dental and medical settings.

A harmful divide

The divide between medical care and dental care benefits no one. Dentistry is health care, but there has long been an artificial separation between dental and medical care in the United States, creating the belief that dental care is an optional luxury, nice to have but not necessary.

But as the Journal of Clinical Periodontology Research shows that the more we learn about the connection between oral health and physical health, the clearer it becomes that the distinction between the two is detrimental to patient health. More than 40 years ago, reports on oral health from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) highlighted how damaging the dental care delivery system in the United States was.

The IOM has reported for decades that our dental system is failing to treat the two most common oral diseases, tooth decay and periodontal disease. Research suggests that poor oral health is strongly correlated with chronic disease. Early identification and intervention for oral disease is one of the best and easiest ways to improve overall health and can significantly reduce some of our society’s most pressing health problems. The evidence is clear: a dentist is an essential part of the health of the whole body.

Advancing Preventative Care with Dental AI

We typically think of artificial intelligence (AI) as a tool just for mapping or billing, but it has tremendous potential to improve both clinical outcomes and practice efficiency. Comprehensive patient care depends on the prompt, accurate, and complete identification of all cases of disease, and in many cases can begin in the dentist’s office. Many chronic diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and early onset dementia, can be detected (and treated) earlier with proper oral care.

In dentistry and all other areas of healthcare, AI needs to be effective across diverse patient populations and help providers deliver the most accurate diagnoses. This helps ensure the most appropriate treatment recommendations and expands the opportunity to build patient confidence. The widespread use of dental AI supports medical-dental integration (MDI) by dramatically improving the ability to predict or flag systemic diseases like hypertension and diabetes. This would be an essential step in generating meaningful healthcare transformation by reducing disparities in dental caries and supporting populations with both unmet oral health needs and associated chronic diseases.

A bridge to better health

The link between oral health and overall health is inextricable, and AI is beginning to bridge the historic divide between dentistry and other forms of healthcare. This technology has the ability to positively impact the lives of hundreds of millions of citizens in the United States and billions around the world. Americans’ growing desire for comprehensive oral and traditional medical care, coupled with advanced technologies coming to market, mmakes significant disruption to our existing model of care a virtual certainty.

Hillen is founder and CEO of

VideaHealth, a dental AI company working with leading dental support organizations, insurers and other companies in the dental industry.