by Christine Taxin
August 10th, 2015
Dental wellness centers: Responding to the oral-systemic treatment gap
Adjunct Professor, New York College of Dentistry
The changing landscape of dentistry
The modern dental landscape has changed. The new models of practice are being guided
by research revealing the link between oral and systemic health. Studies show that up to
50% of heart attacks are triggered by oral bacteria1 . Other studies have demonstrated
links between oral bacteria and diabetes2, high blood pressure3, dementia4, autoimmune
diseases5, preterm labor, miscarriage and infertility6. Not surprisingly the dental
community is shifting toward wellness and preventive treatments, replacing the reparative
models of the past. Technological and scientific advances are making it possible to
recognize patient’s risk for oral diseases that harbor dangerous bacteria, information that
has the potential to be life-saving.
Many are making an effort to bridge the gap between the dental and medical communities
in order to best serve patients. Some physicians are taking their role seriously, realizing
their local dentists are vital to the overall health of their patients as Dr. Charles Whitney,
MD states “Periodontal disease is a medical condition of the mouth that physicians cannot
treat.”7 Dental professionals are attempting myriad of approaches, mainly the adoption of
new technologies slowly into practice. However, it is proving to be a challenge for many to
fit these new preventive standards into outdated infrastructures. That is why many offices
are choosing to totally revamp their systems to better serve their patients. They are
choosing to transform themselves from a restoration-focused office into a dental wellness
What is a dental wellness center?
There is no one-size-fits-all definition of a dental wellness center; however there are 4
basic identifying components:
1. The team recognizes the patient as expert and co-manager of their health
2. The office has a capacity to address conditions that cause a loss of function (i.e. sleep
apnea, TMD, periodontal disease)
3. The team has prioritized risk assessment and prevention of disease
4. The office has the capacity and training to bill a patient’s medical and or dental
Dental wellness centers keep their focus on the patient at all times. They realize the
importance of co-managing disease and involve the patient in the decision making
processes from the moment the patient steps foot in the waiting room. Patients are
regarded as experts of their own bodies and are consulted and included in the treatment
planning process. Dental wellness centers also prioritize risk assessment for disease
prevention. This includes things like caries risk assessment, oral cancer screenings and
periodontal DNA testing. Dental wellness centers address conditions that are considered to
cause a patient loss of function: periodontal disease, sleep apnea, and TMD, among others.
Finally, dental wellness centers have the capacity and training to cross-code medical and
There are several benefits to adopting a wellness approach, some of which are outlined
1. Increased profits
While upfront there may be expenses to bring in new technology and expand the
professional capacities of team members, you will experience ROI monetarily and
otherwise with your increased capacity. Connecting a patient’s oral heath to their
overall health will increase treatment acceptance (often due to the capability to bill
medical insurance), generate quality referrals from physicians, and add a sizeable
amount of new production to the schedule every month.
2. Professional growth
Professionally you team members will be pushed and stretched as you develop your
new system. They will require advanced training in some areas. Anticipate they will
meet the challenge with excitement. Their knowledge can and should be used to
educate others in the field. Encourage them to seek out opportunities to speak and
write about their experience.
3. Market differentiation
Becoming a dental wellness center will set you apart from your competition. For people
seeking comprehensive care, your office will fit the bill. Your network of referrals will
expand as you make connections with physicians and other health care providers.
4. Patient/provider relationship building
There is nothing better than knowing you have the full trust and confidence of your
patients. When you and your team begin to carry out the vision of a dental wellness center
your patients will know it and trust you. They will feel your concern for their overall health
and that will build confidence and trust in your relationship.
Is dental wellness for you?
If you are not sure if becoming a dental wellness center is right for you, consider these
1. Do you have the desire to grow your practice and stay at the forefront of the
2. Do you want to take care of your patients overall health, and not just their oral
3. Do you want to stand out in your community of health care providers as the
prevention specialist you are?
If you answered yes to any of the above, becoming a dental wellness center is for you. But,
don’t go at it alone. It is a great undertaking to overhaul an entire practice. Resources are
available to assist you and your team members as the process unfolds. If you are serious
about making change, schedule a consult with expert Christine Taxin at Links2Success. If
you aren’t ready for a consult, you are encouraged to walk through the Dental Clinic to
Wellness Center Action Planning Guide. Remember, the time is now and as author Karen
Lamb so poingniently states: “A year from now you may wish you had started today"
1 Bacterial signatures in thrombus aspirates of patients with myocardial infarction. Circulation. 2013, March 19;
2 Efficacy of Periodontal Treatment on Glycemic Control in Diabetic Patients. Diabetes Metabolism 2008, Nov;34(5)
3 Periodontal Bacteria and Hypertension (INVEST). Journal of Hypertension 2010, 28: 1413-1421.
4 Serium antibodies to periodontal pathogens are a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimers Dement. 2012
May; 8(3): 196-203.
5 Periodontal Therapy Reduces the Severity of Active Rhumatoid Arthritis in Pateints Treated with or Without
Tumor Necrosis Factor Inhibitors. Journal of Periodontology, 2009, Vol. 80, No.4, 535-540.
6Maternal periodontal disease and preterm or extreme preterm birth. Journal of Periodontology. 2010 Mar; 81(3): 350-358.
7 Enough talk about the oral-systemic link: It’s time to bridge the gap between dentistry and medicine. Whitney,
Charles MD. (www.dentistryiq.com)