Having conversations about lifestyle in a dental office is always a good idea.
Did you know that more than 85% of your patients lead sedentary lives? What role does this lifestyle play in their overall health? In his webinar, Dr. Uche Odiatu, a specialist in the fundamentals of functional relationships between dentists and their patients, provided a range of surprising facts and answers to many lifestyle-related questions. Read the takeaways from Curaden Academy’s webinar Four patient lifestyle habits that influence healing, hosted by Dr. Odiatu.
According to dentist and personal trainer Dr. Uche Odiatu, dental professionals should always be looking at more than just the oral cavity of a patient. Dr. Odiatu has identified four lifestyle pillars that dentists should be taking into consideration, which have a strong influence on oral and overall health as well as an impact on inflammation and other outcomes of dental treatments. These elements are: stress management, optimal nutrition, regular physical activity and good sleep. Let’s have a look at these pillars more in detail.
Stress extends the healing process
Dr. Odiatu explains how important controlling a reactive mind and managing stress is. “Whenever I see a person in their late teens or twenties come in with an abscess ulcer or canker sore, I ask: ‘What exams you writing right now?’ And the patient is like: ‘Doc, you’re some kind of truth detector,’ but it’s simply because stress often translates to things that can be spotted in the mouth.”
According to the expert, stress always sabotages long-term healing, as when the human body is stressed out, the sympathetic nervous system adopts a “fight, flight or freeze” reaction. “When a patient is upset and angry over several days, months or even a year, guess what the body does? It puts long-term healing on hold. And that can be the cause of various health issues,” he explains.
Nutrition contributes to inflammation, but also to healing
Numerous studies are showing that obesity is associated with an increased risk of developing periodontal disease. And nutrition is the key when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight.
Food is one of the biggest sources of inflammation in our lives, but it can also be one of the most effective healing tools, if we have the right approach to it.
“Nutrition really ramps up or down gene expression. In 2008, a study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found irrefutable evidence that everything you eat either ramps up inflammation or dials it down. So it is very important to look at food from a perspective far beyond just simple calories.”
Dr. Odiatu advises dental professionals to talk to their patients about nutrition: “Simply explain the basic different ways nutrition can affect one’s oral (and overall) health, and then show the patients how the plate should look – two quarters should be vegetables and fruit, one quarter protein, and one quarter wholegrain foods. I’m all about getting people to think at the next level. The shift in perception is very important.”
Create an opportunity to talk to your patients about healthy weight
People who don’t have enough physical activity in their lives have four times more inflammation circulating their bodies than those who are active. Inflammation is a key player in almost every modern degenerative disease.
According to Dr. Odiatu, there are a number of reasons why it’s important to start bringing that physical-activity conversation into your appointments with your patients, and there are plenty of good opportunities for bringing it up – such as when updating their medical histories.
When talking to patients, Dr. Odiatu uses his personal story as a living proof that losing weight and maintaining a healthy number on the scales long-term is possible with the right motivation and support. “Movement begets energy, and energy is life in motion. I used to be 40 pounds (18 kg) heavier – I just ate and ate. But I managed to lose this weight, and for the last 25 years I’ve maintained a healthy weight.”
Good sleep has an irreplaceable role for the immune system
Poor sleep is a hallmark of people with weak immune systems and poor healing. Many studies have shown the wide and varied impacts of not sleeping well – such as impacting the transcription of genes, lowering the follicle stimulating hormone and impacting the ability to get pregnant. Sleep deprivation also lowers the ability to be creative, lowers the processing of emotions, weakens the immune system…Basically, the immune system is on standby during the day, and really kicks into action at night when we’re sleeping, so it suffers when we don’t sleep enough.
In the webinar, Dr. Odiatu explained: “Think of the people getting the ideal length of sleep: 7 to 9 hours. Their immune system has a longer period to reset, reboot, replenish and repair the body than someone who sleeps 4 hours a night. Also, that’s why shift workers typically live up to 8 to 10 years’ shorter lives – simply because they don’t have the investment ofthat generous reboot time, which only happens at night time.”
Two questions for Dr. Uche Odiatu
In the Q&A session of the webinar, dental professionals from all over the world raised various questions. We have selected some of those most relevant to the role lifestyle habits play in maintaining oral health, along with Dr. Uche Odiatu’s responses.
As a hygienist, what is the best way to introduce a conversation about nutrition with a patient?
“The best way is to show them that it’s within our scope of practice. In our practice we spend many hours talking about nutrition. So show them that you’re not just someone who takes care of teeth, but that part of our training is studying nutrition – at least as much as physicians.
Share with your patients a topic-related article or book you’ve read. One of the most relevant books I’ve read recently, and which I always mention, is Diet Myths by Tim Spector, an epidemiologist from England. Also, learning even more about nutrition yourself will empower you as a dental professional to be able to talk about it more, and more confidently.”
How do you broach the subject of the link between being overweight and having a potentially poorer oral environment?
“It’s a very tough and delicate subject to bring up. I’ve had patients say: ‘Doc, every time I see you, you look younger,’ and I reply by being vulnerable and revealing something personal, I say: ‘I used to be much bigger, but lost about 40 pounds and I’ve stayed that way over the last 25 years.’ It invites the patient to open up too – now they are ready to share that they wouldn’t mind losing weight themselves. After that I’ll recommend a book on the subject. Depending on what a patient is dealing with, I’ll share different things with them.
If possible, be authentic, talk about yourself, your journey, be vulnerable and invite them to share. Sure, you’re not going to change anyone’s way of eating in two minutes or a 60-minute hygiene session. But what we can do is create a shift in their perception. When you change the way you look at something, it changes your overall experience of something.
Also, it is good to share facts. Lots of studies have shown that the heavier someone is – regardless of oral hygiene, sleep habits, smoking, being male or female – the more it’s correlated with loss of attachment, bleeding during probing and periodontal disease.
It’s not just the mouth affecting the body, but also the body affecting the mouth. Obese people in particular have higher levels of inflammation. The higher someone’s body mass index is, the more adipose, more extra tissue they carry, the more likely they are to have heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, arthritis or digestive disorders. That’s why we really need to start the conversation about lifestyle.”