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Personalized Dentistry?

May 29, 2015


It is easy to see why researchers and clinicians in so many fields have thrown support behind personalized medicine and genetic research. With more information on how individual patients react to certain diseases and treatments, every facet of the medical industry can improve upon quality of care as new diagnostics and therapeutics are developed based on individuals' specific make-up.

Outside of traditional medicine, psychiatry has also progressed in identifying genetic components of mental illness and treatment, proving the value of personalized medicine is surpassing previous expectations and assumed boundaries. But what about dentistry? Dentistry has long been thought of as categorically different from its healthcare counterparts. However, in a column for UConn Today, R. Lamont MacNeil, D.D.S., dean of the University of Connecticut's School of Dental Medicine, explained that personalized medicine has entered the dental care world as well.

Systemic Health and Personalized Medicine
For the average patient, his or her dentist focuses only on oral health, leaving the diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions to physicians and medical specialists. However, MacNeil explained that while the mouth may not be the primary source of debilitating conditions, it most certainly plays a part in their development.

In particular, MacNeil cited dental caries and periodontitis as two diseases that fit into a larger schema known as oral systemic health. While no causal relationship has been found as of yet, patients who exhibit traits of these oral conditions are more likely to have health problems elsewhere in the body, the most common being heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Tooth decay, sugar consumption, and unbalanced blood sugar levels may be easily interpreted by researchers, but the link between oral health and the other conditions requires a new approach.

According to MacNeil, personalized medicine holds the key to unlocking a new frontier in dentistry. MacNeil hopes that by performing genetic analyses on dental tissue, clinicians and researchers will be able to learn not just about oral conditions and how to better treat and diagnose them based on each person, but also how these oral conditions may relate to other systemic diseases. He envisions an interdisciplinary approach to dental patient sample analysis, in which physicians, dentists, and nurses could work together to understand the inter-workings of disease.

Start From the Source
Given dentistry's potential role in predicting or detecting systemic illness, personalized medicine's enhancements would seem to push the industry into a new age of analytical and diagnostic discovery. However, Rick Valachovic, chief executive officer and president of the American Dental Education Association, explained that for real, long-lasting results, the link between dentistry and medicine, including genomics and personalized medicine, must be made early on in the education and training of future dentists.

"Faculty need to know about the clinical implications of genetics, why it is important in terms of cancer predisposition, oral craniofacial anomalies, or to be a good diagnostician," a colleague told Valachovic at a recent conference. "Most dental schools do not even teach how to do a good family history. That is a key component as a foundation for genetics, and it is going to be critical for helping our patients achieve optimal health."

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