Understanding Oral Health Beyond the Clinic: Insights from Dr. Brian Swann 

As part of Oral Health Month, we hosted a webinar featuring Dr. Brian Swann, a seasoned professional in oral health and public health policy. With a career spanning over three decades, Dr. Swann’s expertise provides valuable insights into the broader implications of oral health beyond the conventional focus on teeth.

 

Redefining Oral Health

Dr. Swann emphasizes that oral health encompasses much more than just dental hygiene. “When we think about oral health, we normally think about dentistry, and dentistry normally helps us to think about teeth. But when we think about really what oral health is, you have to go deeper,” he explains. This holistic perspective is crucial for understanding the interconnectedness of oral health with overall well-being. 

Key Oral Health Practices

While common advice includes brushing teeth twice a day, Dr. Swann elaborates on the importance of brushing before bedtime. “The most important time to brush your teeth is before you go to sleep. That’s when your mouth is driest, and that’s when the acid does more damage.” He also highlights the impact of medications on oral health, particularly those causing dry mouth, which can significantly increase the risk of tooth decay.

Home Remedies: Myths and Facts

Addressing common misconceptions, Dr. Swann warns against abrasive home remedies such as using salt or baking soda excessively. While baking soda is less abrasive than salt and can be used periodically, he advises using a soft toothbrush to prevent damage to the enamel. For infants, he recommends using a clean cloth to wipe their teeth before sleep, emphasizing that even gum tissue can be affected by sugar acids.

The Impact of Oral Health on Systemic Diseases

Dr. Swann points out the bidirectional relationship between gum disease and systemic conditions like diabetes. “The gum disease exacerbates the diabetes, and the diabetes exacerbates the gum disease. They work bidirectionally,” he explains. This interaction highlights the importance of maintaining oral health to manage and prevent systemic diseases.

Access to Dental Care and the Role of RAM

Limited access to dental care remains a significant issue, particularly in underserved communities. Dr. Swann shares stories from his experiences with RAM, where the demand for dental services often surpasses other medical needs. He notes that many patients resort to having all their teeth extracted due to a lack of proper dental care, believing they have “soft teeth” inherited from family. 

Preventive Measures and Policy Advocacy

Preventive care is a central theme in Dr. Swann’s advocacy. He urges for the inclusion of oral health in medical, nursing, and pharmacy curricula to foster a more integrated approach to health care. He also calls for policies that support affordable dental care and the use of teledentistry to reach remote populations. “We need to make sure that our communities are healthy, because disease is transferable,” he asserts. 

Empowering the Next Generation of Health Professionals

For students preparing to volunteer at RAM Clinics, Dr. Swann advises them to view dental disease as preventable and to engage in community outreach. “You want to carve out a particular part of your day or your week or your month or your year to pay it forward in your community,” he encourages. 

The Future of Dentistry

Dr. Swann’s vision for the future of dentistry involves a shift towards viewing oral health professionals as “oral physicians” concerned with whole-body health. This perspective, combined with innovative solutions like RAM’s Digital Denture Program, aims to improve access to dental care and overall health outcomes for underserved populations.

Conclusion

Dr. Brian Swann’s insights underscore the critical importance of integrating oral health into broader healthcare frameworks. His emphasis on preventive care, policy advocacy, and community engagement offers a roadmap for improving oral health outcomes and advancing public health.  Join us in making a difference! You can volunteer your time and skills at Remote Area Medical Clinics to provide much-needed dental care to underserved communities. If you can’t volunteer, consider donating to support our mission of bringing quality health care to those in need. Every contribution helps us reach more people and improve more lives.  And please consider sharing this article and the webinar recording with your network to raise awareness about the critical importance of oral health. Because, together, we can create healthier communities and make a lasting impact.