Dr. Dan: A Dentist on a Mission
I’ve been a practicing dentist now for 30 years. I’m just like every one of you: I face the same obstacles and enjoy the same victories.
I grew up in the field, and dentistry has always been my life. My father is a retired dentist, and he and I actually practiced together for 22 years. He’s an incredible people person, and he taught me how to be one myself. As in most dental practices, my father and I always had a closeness with our patients. And I’ve learned how to become even closer to them. But more on that a little later.
I’m a curious person. I love learning new things, and I’ve had the good fortune to be in on remarkable developments in the dental industry. These findings are revolutionizing not only how dentists treat their patients, but how they can interact with them, grow their own dental practices, and become essential parts of their patients’ healthcare provider networks.
I have learned the importance of this the hard way—by living through personal loss.
My mother passed away a little over seven years ago. She had suffered from multiple sclerosis for over 25 years. She was a beautiful, dignified, peaceful human being. Looking back, I know now that we should have paid more attention to her oral health. But she had multiple sclerosis, and we figured that was bad enough, so why would her teeth and gums matter? It pains me to write this, but with what I know now, I would have completely changed the approach that she (and we) took with her oral health.
I was tested for the genetic variation IL-1 (which means I’m a hyper-responder to inflammation), and was found to be positive. I have no doubt that my mother was positive, too. She took what was considered great care of her mouth during her lifetime, but for individuals who are IL-1 positive, the smallest amount of inflammation causes a cascade of inflammation throughout the body. Some eight years prior to her death, my mother was diagnosed with renal carcinoma (a type of kidney cancer), which grew worse two years before she died.
As a leading expert on oral inflammation, I have little doubt that oral inflammation had a huge impact on her life and her death. I miss her daily, and I personally want to help others avoid the pain of losing a loved one. They say you never have too big of a “what” if you have a big enough “why” – my mother is why I do what I do, and why I’m so passionate about all aspects of oral health.
The mouth is now considered one of the most important parts of the body. There is a definite connection between oral health and overall health. At a recent heart symposium at the Cleveland Clinic, every speaker mentioned oral inflammation in regard to cardiovascular disease. The findings are clear on this.
And dentistry is beginning to respond to it. We dentists are saving lives. I’ve always been blessed with a so-called fun office. Yet by focusing on my patients’ oral health in regards to their total health, I’ve built a bond with patients that I’ve never before experienced.
When you do good for people, it never feels like work, and they become friends for life. My mission is to refresh lives by helping people get rid of health problems that get in the way of leading a happy life. We dentists can play a key role in reducing people’s suffering by improving their health.
I’ve noticed that most of my older patients in their 80s and 90s who are living vibrant and active lives have very healthy mouths. On the other hand, most of the older non-compliant patients who suffer from gum disease are those who’ve neglected their oral health and refused any recommended treatment. They look older than their age and rarely make it to 80 or 90.
It doesn’t have to be like this. Thanks to what I’m doing within my practice and what I’m trying to do to get the word out about oral health in general, dentistry can have a profound impact on the health of our nation.