Strengthening the links between dentistry and medicine is Dr Aditi Desai’s ambition for the Odontology Section at the Royal Society of Medicine. As a dental surgeon with a special interest in sleep medicine, Dr Desai is fully versed on the value both professions have to offer when they work collaboratively to improve health outcomes for patients.
In 2020-21, Dr Desai brought together the Sleep Medicine and Odontology sections at the RSM to run a six-part education series that aimed to do just that. Exploring topics such as the relationship between periodontal (gum) diseases and obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) and the role of oro-maxillofacial surgical options for the management of OSA, the series attracted wide interest from RSM members and the broader healthcare community.
“We need to encourage dentists and doctors to engage with each other through more topics that are relevant to both professions,” says Dr Desai. “Core continual professional development training for dentistry is covered by organisations such as the British Dental Association. Where the RSM can play an important role is providing education in complementary areas where dentists and doctors have common interests, for example in the areas of neurology, endocrinology, oral and maxillofacial surgery and respiratory medicine.”
Routinely, dentists working in general dental practice only interact with other medical professionals when they have identified a problem – for example, referring a patient experiencing problems with swallowing (dysphagia) to an ear, nose and throat specialist, or referring a patient with a suspected tumour to a surgeon.
As Dr Desai explains, however, dentists and their hygienist colleagues in primary care are well-placed to spot wider health problems, with growing evidence linking poor oral health, in particular periodontal disease, to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. There are also links between gum disease and kidney disease.
“The RSM is the perfect place for dentists wanting to contribute to a broader spectrum of health issues because it brings together all the medical specialties,” she says.
Later this year, she is hoping to engage with other RSM sections to run a face-to-face multidisciplinary symposium to explore further the intersections between medicine and dentistry in a programme that would also engage allied health professionals including physiologists, physiotherapists and nutritionists.
Dr Desai is also keen for the Odontology Section to run an education programme that tackles the topic of teeth grinding (bruxism). “In the last two years, the stress levels caused by COVID have resulted in the workload of many of my colleagues going through the roof, with patients complaining of cracked teeth, headaches, jaw ache, neck ache and insomnia because they aren’t able to sleep. The tiredness during the day that this causes is a huge source of stress.”
With an immense breadth of experience as a former practising dental surgeon (including a 13-year stint as the in-house dentist at BBC Broadcasting House in London) and through her high profile as a sleep medicine expert (she is currently working with respiratory physician Dr Martin Allen, National Specialty Adviser to NHS England and NHS Improvement, on the implementation of the new NICE guideline on obstructive sleep apnea/hypopnea syndrome for over 16s), Dr Desai is well-placed to achieve her far-reaching ambitions for the Odontology Section.