When her eldest son was diagnosed with oral cancer, D-DENT Executive Director Shirley Harris said she became “hyper aware” of a disease that has frightening survival statistics. Her son survived, but Harris shared that two people who were diagnosed around the same time were not so fortunate.
“The news shook me to my core,” she says. “These three individuals were young, healthy people. I felt devastated when I heard the news.”
Harris started to wonder about ways she could help fight this disease, and concluded, “The only thing I knew I could do is make noise. Create such a loud voice to raise awareness of the importance of oral screenings – no matter your age, [or] your socioeconomic background.”
Feeling that she needed to do more, Harris started a 5K run four years ago, “in honor and in memory of those who have fought so bravely,” she says. As well as raising awareness and funds, oral cancer screenings are available during the event and free to all who register.
The continued work that Harris carries out for her community has earned her a place in the top 25 Women in Dentistry as compiled by Dental Products Report. For the past 20 years, Harris has helped thousands of needy Oklahomans gain access to free dental care through D-DENT – Dentists for the Disabled and Elderly in Need of Treatment.
Helping to provide dental care to those who need it most is something that Dr. Lori LoVette is passionate about – and the more apprehensive they are about visiting the dentist, the better, LoVette said.
“We work hard to create a family-like atmosphere. Of course, there is medication to help people who are anxious about the dentist, but if we can set their fear aside through discussion and not medication, that is always our preferred chosen path,” says LoVette, who also works with D-DENT.
Each year, LoVette – with more than 20 years of experience – selects a nonprofit to assist. Most recently, her Midtown office collected and donated scarves, both bought and handmade, to the Homeless Alliance.
Also serving the metro for decades, Dr. Mark Hanstein, based in downtown OKC, has devoted many years to working with the American Dental Association advocating patient rights; traveling to Washington, D.C., to represent Oklahoma patients in the fight for more accountability from insurance companies. He’s also heavily involved with (Downtown) Oklahoma City Kiwanis Club and is a regular at the Oklahoma Mission of Mercy, where he volunteers his time providing free dental care to many Oklahomans who wouldn’t normally have access to it.
“We average around 1,800 to 2,000 patients (in one weekend) from cleanings for kids’ teeth to crowns; it’s a crucial operation for so many residents,” he says.
►Matters of the Mouth
Many of us take our teeth for granted, hoping that brushing twice a day is all we need to keep our pearly whites in trim. But there are all kinds of things that can go wrong in our mouths that, if left undetected by a professional, could lead to a serious health issue.
Certain diseases – such as heart disease, osteoporosis and diabetes – have links to our oral health that really should be on our radar. So, with this in mind, we asked a few of the many experts in our community for their top tips on keeping our mouths in marvelous shape.
Dr. Corbyn Rhodes, Advances in Dentistry, said gum disease can increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke, so his advice is simple: “Brush at least twice a day and floss once a day.” As far as foods go, cheese may not be great for your waistline, but is good for your teeth. “A study found that cheddar cheese raises the pH in the mouth and lowers the risk of developing cavities.”
Dr. Tracey Whitley, Oklahoma Center for Implants, also endorsed dairy foods as a great way to protect our enamel and help prevent decay and gum disease, while stressing the importance of limiting our intake of acidic foods, such as tomatoes and citrus fruits.
Dr. Blaire Bowers, Periodontal Implant Center, said that in addition to limiting some foods, certain medications can predispose patients to inflammation and overgrowth of gum tissues, such as anti-seizure, blood pressure and immunosuppressant medications. “Patients that take medications in these families should be more proactive with their oral health, and may require more frequent cleanings per year,” she warns.
Dr. Scott Searcey, Oral & Maxillofacial Associates, said impacted wisdom teeth, which are wisdom teeth than can’t come through due to a blockage from other teeth, can cause a number of nasty issues if not dealt with, such as swelling, ulceration, cysts or tumors, to name a few. Wisdom teeth need to be monitored regularly, particularly between the ages of 14 and 17 years old, he reminded us.
In 2016, Oklahoma ranked among the worst states for dental visits, with just 58 percent of adults visiting the dentist in the last year, according to research carried out by The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Dr. Steven M. Sullivan, Profiles Oral Facial Surgery, says: “It’s critical from a young age that routine checkups with a dentist take place, and a lifelong commitment to good dental health be a priority. Too often we see dental neglect being very disruptive to people’s overall health and well-being.”
► For More Information
D-Dent and this year’s 5k: d-dentok.org/d-dentok.org/Home.html
OK Mission of Mercy: okmom.org/
American Dental Association: ada.org/en
Kiwanis Club of OKC: kiwanis-okc.org/