Open wide.

That’s the classic opening line for dentists seeing patients.  It’s also what Congress is saying to the American people regarding how they’re going to pay for healthcare.

The good news, according to dental consultant Gary Kadi, is that if the dentists say it more often, Congress won’t need billions or trillions or whatever the latest number might be to keep Americans healthy.

“Everyone’s scrambling to solve the healthcare crisis,” says Kadi, founder, and CEO of NextLevel Practice, a New York-based dental consultancy. “Surprisingly, the answer exists in the form of the individual you already see twice a year – the one who asks you to open your mouth and say, ‘Ahh.’

“In today’s unsettled healthcare environment, the dentist, of all people, may just be the solution to what ails America.”

Kadi points out that M.D.s are up against it — their insurance costs are going through the roof, while at the same time their Medicare reimbursements are in free fall. They have little time to see any given patient, often just long enough to get a cursory sense of what a problem is and whip out the prescription pad.

“By contrast,” Kadi points out, “dentists have seemingly all the time in the world. Their business model is not dependent on insurance reimbursements to nearly the same degree as is that of M.D.s, and they are not captives of Big Pharma.  Instead, they have the relative leisure to understand the overall health of their patients and maintain relationships with patients that can last for decades.”

Most people, Kadi says, think dentists just “drill, fill, and bill.”  In other words, the extent of their services taking care of cavities, crowns, gum disease, and maybe some cosmetic work on the side.

But almost everything that happens in our lives either starts with the mouth or comes through the mouth, Kadi says.  

“Of course we eat using our mouths,” he points out. “We speak with our mouths. We even kiss with our mouths. The dentist’s role is to help patients understand that they must adhere to a healthy mouth standard.  Mouths aren’t just places for eating, drinking, speaking, and kissing.  It’s the foundation of our overall health and well-being.”

Kadi notes that many of the most critical diseases affecting the entire body start in the mouth.  Many forms of cancer, as well as indicators of the possibility of stroke and heart disease, are evident in our saliva. Cutting-edge dentists are aware of the life-preserving benefits that come from a healthy mouth. By educating patients, and by treating them holistically – not just filling cavities but creating an awareness of how a healthy mouth can stave off serious illness – dentists today are truly the unsung heroes of healthcare.

“American healthcare isn’t even healthcare at all,” Kadi says.  “It’s really ‘sick care.’ Americans tend to eat poorly, fail to exercise, and don’t sleep enough, so they subject themselves to all sorts of avoidable illness.

“M.D.s mean well, but they just don’t have the time to address root causes. That’s where dentists come in. They’re the only healthcare providers in our society who meet regularly and for a half-hour to hour-long visits with their patients twice a year, or sometimes more often. A dollar spent on dentistry saves the entire healthcare system $32.”

Dentistry is no longer just about teeth and gums, Kadi says. It’s about creating a healthy mouth, which can prevent so many of the diseases that cost the system billions of dollars and cost individual Americans years, or even decades, of their lives.

Kadi believes that dentists never intended that they would become the primary healthcare providers in our society.  They were essentially minding their business when the M.D.-based healthcare system all but collapsed. The good news is that if Americans would just go to the dentist more often, they would live longer, the healthcare system would save substantial amounts of money, and we would all be much better off.