The easy answer is that our mouths are incredibly important! They are step one in our ability to survive — enabling us to eat, drink, and breathe — and help form the foundation of expression and communication, allowing us to sing, say “hello”, smile, laugh, and cry.
We tend to view oral health as an accessory rather than as a critical component to our overall health. Cavities and gum disease are seen as inevitable annoyances instead of the damaging infections they are.
New evidence linking our oral and general health is showing us that you cannot be “healthy” without oral health. Our body is a delicate series of ecosystems working together and influencing one another. Any part that isn’t performing well can negatively affect the entire system.
Many systemic diseases have oral manifestations, meaning that our oral health (or lack thereof) can serve as an early warning sign for more serious issues. Our mouths are a primary entry point for our bodies, serving as the first line of defense against pathogens or, in cases of poor oral health, “opening the gates” for serious infections and other conditions.
Our knowledge of the role of oral health is continually progressing thanks to new technologies and research initiatives. Studies show that chronic disease patients, such as diabetics, who receive consistent preventive oral care see significant reductions in their overall healthcare costs. Research is continuing to uncover links between our oral health and the risk, presence, or progression of conditions including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and IBD.
Inherent and imposed barriers in oral care result in a standard focused on reactively treating disease instead of proactively managing health.
Traditional dental care is built on tools like X-rays and observational screenings that detect the symptoms of progressed disease, such as tooth decay, rather than the root causes: the bacteria driving the infections. Over 80M US adults suffer from gum disease and over 100M suffer from untreated decay — both of which are largely preventable.
Oral care suffers from deep inequities in quality and access, perpetuated in part by sociodemographic factors known as “social determinants of health”. On top of that, siloed systems, complex navigation of services, and large gaps in coverage lead to over 80M US adults skipping dental visits each year and over 75M US adults with no form of dental insurance.
Unchecked disease and late diagnoses lead to invasive, painful, and expensive procedures that could have been avoided.
Over $150B is spent annually on dental care in the US, and over 40% of that is in out-of-pocket payments — almost 4x more than the aggregate of all other out-of-pocket healthcare expenses.
We’ve made incredible strides in improving general health over the last decade. The rapid adoption and implementation of new technologies enable remote monitoring of symptoms, early detection of disease, virtual care delivery, and new generations of therapeutics. We’re racing to tackle some of the biggest problems in care while forgetting the one (literally) right beneath our nose.
The tools exist. The problem is solvable. The patients are waiting.
Bristle is here.