Online oral health education tools: Part 2, Why should we care?

May 9, 2012
Dr. Fred Ferguson concludes a two-part series on online health assessment for pediatric patients. In this article, he discusses the oral-overall health connection, the effect good oral health has on medical insurance, and answers the burning question, Why should we care?

By Fred Ferguson, DDS

Are you using a personalized online oral health education tool for your patients?

Click here to read "Online oral health education tools: Part 1, Opportunity."

Oral-overall health connections

A primary obstacle in oral health/literacy is that individuals and caregivers do not receive timely information that is specific to their circumstances. Furthermore, a child’s oral health evolves as their self-care and lifestyle choices become more individualized, thus developing behaviors that either enhance or threaten their health. The very nature of common oral illness and the proven beneficial effect of timely preventive dental visits dictate that online health records could have tremendous benefit to promote health literacy/behaviors and timely dental visits from birth through the senior years. Oral flora responsible for tooth decay, bleeding gums, bone loss around teeth, and oral malodor are acquired during infancy. However, common oral illness (i.e., decay, chronic gingival bleeding, dental bone loss, and chronic malodor) caused by oral bacteria is significantly related to daily habits, lifestyles, situations, conditions, and behaviors that can be quantified and modified.

Through these shared concerns, poor oral health is a cofactor for chronic health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, pneumonia, low birth weight, and brittle bones. Evidence also connects oral and overall health connection via inflammation and harmful flora through the circulation. Additionally, many medications prescribed for chronic health problems can be harmful for oral health; dental professionals can alert primary physicians of these cases. Due to these attributes, oral health education provides a simple method for overall health promotion throughout life.

Why might medical insurance care?

Increasingly, insurance and employer benefit programs are recognizing the value of oral health. An individual’s risk for poor oral health can be assessed through online tools that can provide personalized health behavior counseling and precise reports to dental and medical providers at the patient’s visit. The interactive online tool never forgets and can alert caregivers and individuals to initiate timely preventive dental visits and anticipate for situations known to increase risk for poor oral health (e.g., pregnancy).

One of the best advantages of using an online personal oral health risk assessment is that it can be integrated into insurance, school records, and corporate wellness efforts and enhance practice management. The bottom line is the potential for significant cost savings for the common chronic health concerns, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, that good oral health can provide.

Why should we care?

It is my vision that tracking patient self-assessments and dental visit examination outcomes provides the most effective and efficient method for insurance companiess and health providers to manage individuals who suffer common chronic health problems. I envision the dental practice as the means for insurance companies to gain an effective and efficient data set — self-assessments. We will be very busy!

The ultimate goal of personalized online oral health tools is to connect employers, schools, insurers, and dental health providers through a transparent data set with the goal to improve overall health across a large and diverse population, regardless of age, socioeconomic status, gender, and ethnicity. Good oral health leads to good general health, and it will ultimately reduce Americans’ health-care costs.

Teeth are like trees and gums don’t lie.

Author bio
Dr. Fred Ferguson is president of AboutSmiles, Inc., an information and communications company focused on oral health through He is the creator of, a secure interactive oral health risk assessment tool and personal health information tracking program that integrates oral and general health. My SmileGuide provides individuals and families with a personal oral health record that even helps with dental visits. Dr. Ferguson is a professor of pediatric dentistry at Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, N.Y. Dr. Ferguson can be contacted at [email protected].