Healthy teeth, healthy people

Talk leaves journalists flossing for details on oral health

Some scenes deserve to be deleted – or in this case extracted.

But since I attended “Smiles for Life: How Oral Health Leads to General Health,” this little write-up on a not-so-scientific press conference appears under the heading “On the Scene.” Unfortunately for me and about two dozen other reporters, being on the scene was the journalistic equivalent of getting a filling.

The premise of the presentation was that the mouth is a portal into the body, so you can’t have good general health without good oral health. Periodontal disease has an impact on diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke and adverse pregnancy outcomes. And chronic infection in the mouth takes its toll on the rest of the body.

Well, that’s the sugarcoated version. In reality, these are hypotheses. They seem plausible enough. The trouble: no data.

Journalist after journalist, like dental hygienists poking and prodding with shiny metal tools, asked different versions of the same question: Can you provide any numbers from epidemiological studies that quantify the nature of this association or the relative risk?

The answers: We are not at that level of sophistication, we don’t know the impact at the moment, we are right at the threshold in these investigations.

“It feels like we are pulling teeth,” said David Derbyshire of The Daily Mail. Seems no one knew how to find the news in this news conference.

For journalists to be convinced, they need something to sink their teeth into.


Elizabeth Quill

Elizabeth Quill is the executive editor. She has overseen collections on topics ranging from consciousness to general relativity, and recently took a deep dive into the periodic table of the elements.

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