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Interview: “Dental professionals can be instrumental in helping” to recognise autoimmune diseases

In a pair of presentations at the Chicago Dental Society Midwinter Meeting, Karen Davis will be discussing a number of chronic illnesses and conditions that dentists may witness in their patients. (Image: puhhha/Shutterstock)

Taking place from 24 to 26 February, this year’s Chicago Dental Society Midwinter Meeting is returning to an in-person format with gusto. More than 250 courses will be presented by 150 speakers and will provide plenty of opportunities for attendees to learn about the latest dental and oral health science advancements. Ahead of the event, Dental Tribune International spoke with Karen Davis, a registered dental hygienist, who will be presenting two sessions: “Invisible pain: Realities within world of autoimmune conditions” and “Risk factors: Cannabis, cancer and chronic pain”.

Dental hygienist Karen Davis. (Image: Karen Davis)

Ms Davis, how do the topics of cannabis, cancer and chronic pain relate to the everyday provision of dentistry?
Though they may seem unrelated at first glance, when you consider the growing number of patients using cannabis for medical and recreational reasons, it is important to appreciate the potential benefits, risks and oral consequences of cannabis usage. Even though there are many avenues through which one can consume cannabis, smoking still remains the most prevalent method, especially when the desired effect is immediate relief from chronic pain. Dental professionals—myself included—need a broad understanding of this topic, and this course helps to unpack the science of therapeutic cannabis usage, the hype about it and its potential.

In your experience, are autoimmune conditions more prevalent among any particular groups of dental patients?
In general, women are more at risk for most autoimmune diseases, with the exception of ankylosing spondylitis and Type 1 diabetes, which are more common in men. Autoimmune diseases are not only prevalent but are also growing in incidence, so dental professionals will benefit from insights into their world, as many of our patients suffering from autoimmune diseases look perfectly fit on the outside while, inside their bodies, they are navigating chronic pain, fatigue, depression and chronic inflammation.

“In general, women are more at risk for most autoimmune diseases”

Is there scope for dentists to diagnose patients with autoimmune conditions or to refer a suspected case to a specialist?
There are a few autoimmune diseases that present with oral manifestations as early indicators for a diagnosis. It is important for dental professionals to be able to connect those dots and raise questions upon seeing these oral presentations, which could certainly lead to specialist referrals for an accurate diagnosis.

Most patients having autoimmune diseases wait, on average, five to six years for an accurate diagnosis. Dental professionals can be instrumental in helping to narrow that window by possessing a better understanding of what to look for, as well as by understanding how best to care for this growing body of individuals, since they remain at higher risk for dental diseases.

What do you hope attendees will take away from your presentations?
It is always my goal to equip dental professionals with pertinent clinical applications, so that they can implement immediate strategies to care for patients more comprehensively. The oral–systemic dynamic requires that we continually increase our knowledge about how to intervene, collaborate and treat patients, with the goal of increased health spans and lifespans in mind.

Editorial note:

Ms Davis’ presentation “Invisible pain: Realities within world of autoimmune conditions” will take place on 25 February at 1:30 p.m. CST. Her presentation “Risk factors: Cannabis, cancer and chronic pain” will take place on 26 February at 8:30 a.m. CST. For more information on the Chicago Dental Society Midwinter Meeting, click here.

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