LFQs: Laser Focused Questions for Charles Whitney, MD
The theme of ALD 2019 is “The Laser Systemic Connection: Lighting the Way to a Healthier Mouth and Body”. Kicking off the conference is keynote speaker Charles Whitney, MD, the nation’s leading physician advocate for bridging the oral-systemic gap.
The theme of ALD 2019 is “The Laser Systemic Connection: Lighting the Way to a Healthier Mouth and Body”. Kicking off the conference is keynote speaker Charles Whitney, MD, the nation’s leading physician advocate for bridging the oral-systemic gap. Dr. Whitney’s specialty of heart attack, stroke and dementia prevention relies heavily on collaborating the dental clinicians to accurately diagnose and effectively treat periodontal disease.
ALD: Dr. Whitney, you have a very progressive approach to healthcare that is focused on preventing illness rather than treating symptoms. What made you question what you may have learned in medical school and when did you begin practicing medicine differently?
Dr. Whitney: My mindset as a physician has always been “root cause medicine”. That means to treat the cause, not the effect. Just like a tree specialist look at the roots when there are diseased leaves, physicians need to look at the root causes of disease not just react to the disease itself.
For example, it’s easy to treat high blood pressure with a pill, but much more important to figure out which of the many causes of high blood pressure are driving the condition.
This mindset was actually very commonplace until the 1950s when technology gave us the ability to diagnose and treat conditions like heart disease and cancer in ways that were not previously possible. It created the reactive model of medicine that exists today. For much of my career, I was a stranger living in a foreign land. I had the root cause mindset living in me but had been trained in and working in the reactive treatment model.
"My patient was being ravaged by the pain of severe mucositis from his chemotherapy for colon cancer. All the oncologist was offering was a mouth rinse to take the edge of the pain. I connected him with Dr. Burchman. My patient describes the laser treatment results as 'life-changing'."ALD: You have two practices in Pennsylvania that specialize in heart attack, stroke and dementia prevention. You’ve frequently mentioned in your writings and lectures that you would not be able to prevent these medical conditions without collaborating with dental clinicians to accurately diagnose and effectively treat periodontal disease. When did you start “bridging the gap” in your day-to-day practice?
Dr. Whitney: In 2011 I begin to track a blood test that very specifically assesses for inflammation in our arteries that can lead to heart attack and stroke. I was finding that this marker was not improving at all through adding medication, losing weight, and beginning exercise. It was only after a started recommending that my patients diligently follow up with their hygienist, and use a Sonic toothbrush, followed by an antiseptic mouth rinse that I started seeing this blood test begin to improve, sometimes very dramatically. That was when my light bulb went on. When high-risk bacteria that drive endodontic and periodontal disease make their way into the bloodstream and spray everywhere, they drive the same inflammation in the brain, organs, and arteries of our heart and neck where they land that is seen in the gums with periodontal disease. Oral bacteremia is a critically important root cause of many systemic diseases.
ALD: ALD members have been treating periodontal disease with lasers for more than 25 years, were they bridging the oral-systemic gap without being aware of the full potential?
Dr. Whitney: Without question! Periodontal disease is an infectious disease, not an inflammatory disease. Eliminating causative microorganisms in pockets and adjacent gums reduce the risk of oral bacteremia that ultimately drives many systemic diseases.
ALD: What can ALD members do in their day-to-day practice to make a consistent oral-systemic health impact and elevate the standard of care?
Dr. Whitney: Change their mindset from reactive dentistry to a root cause (pardon the intentional pun) dentistry. Instead of explaining how they can help the patient’s mouth, they should explain how dental treatment plans will reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes, dementia, pregnancy complications, and many other systemic conditions. They will find their patients are much more inspired to adhere to recommended treatment plans.
ALD: You recently collaborated with our president-elect Dr. Mel Burchman to treat one of your patients who was suffering from chemotherapy-induced oral mucositis. Can you tell us a little about this case and the outcome?
Dr. Whitney: Pretty simple. My patient was being ravaged by the pain of severe mucositis from his chemotherapy for colon cancer. All the oncologist was offering was a mouth rinse to take the edge off the pain. I connected him with Dr. Burchman. My patient describes the laser treatment results as “life-changing“. Now, a very prominent oncologist in Philadelphia has another tool in his holster for this common complication of chemotherapy. The result is that we are slowly but surely furthering the grass root efforts of educating the medical population that we should be referring to dental specialists just as we do other medical specialists.
ALD: Would it be fair to say that laser technology can be a strong catalyst for increased medical/dental collaboration?
Dr. Whitney: Definitely! More and more physicians are being financially compensated by insurance companies based on improved patient outcomes. By collaborating with a qualified practitioner of laser dentistry, physicians could improve the lives of their patients and themselves.
ALD: Thanks Dr. Whitney, we’re looking forward to your keynote at ALD 2019!
Note: The Academy of Laser Dentistry is committed to open-minded and commercially unbiased perspectives in having inclusive, rather than exclusive, discussions, and thereby continually pushing the envelope of possibilities towards improving the health and well-being of our patients. We invite all dental professionals to join us in Dallas from April 4-6th for our annual meeting. Early registration discounts are in effect until November 30th.