Since poor oral health is now thought to be associated with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and pre-eclampsia, medical and dental students should share much of their curriculum, writes the dean of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine for Stat News.

Harvard dental students have always spent more than a year of their education attending the same classes as their medical school peers. They learn just as much about what’s going on in the chest cavity as the oral cavity. Under a new curriculum, in their second year they work in a primary care clinic in the dental school, side by side with fourth-year dental students, nurse practitioners, and primary care physicians to learn how to assess a patient’s overall health. In a collaboration with Northeastern University’s Bouvé School of Nursing, nurse practitioners and nursing students work with dental students and faculty members to manage chronic diseases and provide oral care.

Poor oral health is more than a “tooth problem.” We use our mouth to eat, to breathe, and to speak. Oral pain results in lost time from school and work and lowered self-esteem. Inflammation in the gums and mouth may help set the stage for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic conditions. Dental infection can lead to the potentially serious blood infection known as sepsis. In the case of 12-year-old Deamonte Driver, an infected tooth led to a fatal brain infection.

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