Why Does My Dentist Ask for My Medical History?
(And Other Questions You’ve Always Wondered)
When you first visit a new dentist, one of the first things you will be asked is to provide your about your medical information and history. Dentists use this to care for your oral health needs in a safe and effective manner.
By providing complete health and medical information, and updating it regularly, you are placing yourself in the best possible situation to receive effective and safe dental care.
– Dr Ian Renton
Why do dentists need my medical history?
As health professionals, dentists need to provide appropriate and safe treatment for you.
To do this, they need to know about any medical conditions that you may have and if you take any medications.
Many diseases can have significant effects on your mouth and teeth. Researchers continue to discover ways in which oral health relates to overall health. For example:
- Diabetes can increase the risk of periodontal (gum) disease.
- Illnesses including some auto-immune diseases or poorly controlled diabetes can cause dry mouth (xerostomia).
- Treatments including radiation therapy, some medications for depression and anxiety, and pain management can cause dry mouth. Too little saliva can result in increased tooth decay, gum disease and bad breath (halitosis).
- There are also links between poor periodontal health and heart disease.
Medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or high blood pressure can influence the type and timing of dental treatment you can receive. For example:
- We try to schedule diabetic patients (who need longer appointments) earlier in the day.
- Patients who have arthritic conditions may cope better in the middle of the day. This is because they have had opportunity to move around beforehand.
- Medical treatment for osteoporosis involving long-acting injections needs to be carefully co-ordinated in advance of dental treatment.
- We take extra precautions with dental treatment when a patient is pregnant – particularly in the early stages. Dentists will avoid taking radiographs (xrays) if at all possible.
By working with your dentist to provide as much relevant health information as possible, you are maximising the safety and effectiveness of your dental treatment.
So you might be wondering what kind of health information should you share? How specific should you be?
Why does my dentist want to know about any operations I’ve had?
Mention everything about your health on your medical history form, even if you don’t think it relates to your mouth. Your mouth is just one part of the whole of you. Your oral health is connected to your overall health, and your overall health impacts your oral health.
If you have had surgery or a major illness, be sure to include this information in the medical history section of your form. For example, after some operations such as joint replacements, patients may need to take antibiotics before having dental treatment.
Why does my dentist want to know about my current health conditions?
Your dental team can then modify your dental treatment to support your medical treatment. We can also provide information from our dental observations to your doctor, which can help with a more successful outcome for you.
Why does my dentist want to know about medication or supplements?
Be very detailed on your form about any medications you take or use, whether it’s prescription or non-prescription. Some medications react with the medicaments or procedures we use in treatments. For example,
- Some heart conditions may react badly to certain types of anaesthetic.
- Some medications such as blood thinners slow your blood’s ability to clot. This can be significant after a dental extraction.
- Even certain vitamins and supplements can affect how your body responds to dental treatment. For example, taking large doses of fish oil may contribute to excessive bleeding.
- Drinking apple cider vinegar regularly can cause negative changes to your oral environment.
Past abnormal responses to anaesthetic or medications such as antibiotics will alert your dental team so they can use a different medication.
Why does my dentist want to know about my allergies?
Information about allergies to medication or other substances is also important to know. Allergies to latex or particular foods can indicate that you may respond in an adverse way if we used certain dental products.
For example, if you were allergic to bananas, you may have a response to latex, the material that some dental gloves are made from. If your dentist knows about a potential allergy, we can use an alternate material.
Why does my dentist want to know if I faint?
Even knowing information such as you tend to faint when having injections is essential information for the dental team. Certain precautions can be taken in advance to ensure your safety and well-being.
Why does my dentist ask if I smoke?
Smoking may affect your oral health as well as your overall health. It may also hinder your recovery from certain procedures such as extractions or implants. By knowing about your smoking habits before a dental procedure, we can take precautions to ensure the best result.
- Increased risk of developing gum and periodontal disease, which can lead to
- inflammation and bleeding of the gums,
- bone loss around teeth, and
- sensitive teeth and gums.
- Increased risk of developing oral cancer.
- Diminished appearance of your teeth (brown staining).
Dentists ask if you smoke because it helps us understand the cause behind some dental conditions.
If you are wanting to quit, the Queensland government offers a number of resources to help here https://www.qld.gov.au/health/staying-healthy/atods/smoking. And of course, we would be happy to discuss this with you, help you understand options, and support you on your journey.
Why do dentists ask to update my medical information?
Life is always changing. Even as we age, our situation, health and needs change with us.
Your health conditions may moderate or deteriorate over a period of time. You may change type or dosage of medication or stop some medication completely. You may have an operation, significant illness, or accident. That can means we take special precautions when you need dental treatment.
While we hope that you stay well and healthy, sometimes negative experiences are beyond our control.
How is my health information used?
Best decisions for you
We use your health and medical information as an important indicator when we do your dental examination. For example, if you have advised us you have reflux, we carefully check your throat, gums and teeth to ensure signs of acid wear have not increased.
We also use your information to guide us when choosing anaesthetic for a procedure. For example, if you have a particular kind of heart condition, we may choose an anaesthetic which does not contain adrenaline.
We take your health and medical information into account when scheduling your treatment. For example, if you are in the first or last trimester of pregnancy, your dentist may delay or do temporary treatment to maximise the safety to you and your baby.
Your information is especially important when your dentist chooses medication for you. This includes types of pain killers (analgesics) or antibiotics. We must ensure that your existing medication is compatible with any new medication we may prescribe or recommend.
Because dentists have an overview of all your mediction, they can highlight incompatible medication prescribed from different medical practitioners. For example, when patients are being treated by a number of specialists who are trialling different medications or dosage levels, it can result in communication between doctors that is not current.
On rare occasions, one of our dental team has been able to alert patients about incompatible medication combinations.
Your health and medical information is protected. We only share it with appropriate healthcare practitioners to whom you have agreed to be referred.
We provide a summary of relevant information. You will find they will request you to provide detailed health information for their own records.
We may need to liaise with your GP about medical information which impacts your dental condition and treatment. We always seek your permission to do this before we make contact.
If you are a minor, we may need to share relevant health and medical information with your parent or guardian.
How is my health information stored?
If you have any concerns about how we handle your personal information, please discuss these with your dentist. At our practice, we have a documented plan for the resolution of concerns which we would be happy to share.
Like you, we want the best outcome for you. We think of your health as a working partnership.