Healthcare's hidden link: How innovation is bridging the medical-dental divide

MATTER welcomed a panel of industry-leading experts who made the case for connecting chronic care with oral health and discussed how we can reduce health disparities through oral health.

Despite growing evidence linking oral health to overall well-being, only 37 percent of Americans saw both a physician and a dentist in the same year. In hopes of advancing solutions supporting more equitable oral and overall health, MATTER and CareQuest Innovation Partners opened applications for SMILE Health, which seeks innovators bridging the medical-dental divide.

In support of SMILE Health, MATTER and CareQuest Innovation Partners organized two panels featuring experts from companies including Cigna Healthcare, DentaQuest, Colgate and more. These panels delved into the integration of chronic care with oral health and strategies for reducing healthcare disparities. Moderated by Katie D’Amico, vice president of growth and innovation at CareQuest Innovation Partners, the discussions explored the intricate links between chronic care and oral health, as well as efforts to mitigate oral and overall health inequalities.

Watch the full discussion below and read on for some key insights.

Insight One: Now more than ever, oral health must be more accessible, equitable and integrated.

“As a physician, I understand firsthand the connection between the mouth, the body and the mind and that these are not disparate systems, but essential components of holistic health,” Dr. Myechia Minter-Jordan, president and CEO of CareQuest Institute for Oral Health, said. “Two years and nearly 20 validation studies later, we can say that SMILE Health is really advancing solutions and creating value.”

Insight Two: Oral health can be used as a diagnostic window for both chronic and mental health conditions.

Dr. Cary Sun from Cigna Healthcare highlighted diabetes as a condition strongly linked to gum disease, emphasizing its implications for overall health. Furthermore, Dr. Sun outlined studies that reveal correlations between gum disease and heightened risks of heart and respiratory ailments.

But the impact of oral health extends beyond physical conditions. It serves as a potential indicator of behavioral health concerns like chronic stress, anxiety and eating disorders. Recent research also suggests a connection between gum disease bacteria and Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, signaling the intricate relationship between oral health and cognitive well-being.

Insight Three: Oral health overlaps with maternal health, public policy, AI and more.

Kamila Chytil, chief operating officer of DentaQuest, highlights the alarming statistic that 60 to 75 percent of pregnant women experience oral health issues, increasing their vulnerability to serious complications such as heart conditions. Despite this risk, many pregnant women prioritize visits to their primary care provider over dental care. Chytil detailed the holistic approach DentaQuest has adopted to educate both patients and providers on the importance of oral health before, during and after pregnancy.

Dr. Maria Ryan, chief operating officer of Colgate-Palmolive Company, discussed the effectiveness of Colgate initiatives like the Know Your OQ™ quiz and Bright Smiles, Bright Futures program in reshaping consumer attitudes toward oral health. These initiatives not only enhance oral health literacy but also complement the efficacy of AI-powered diagnostic tools, emphasizing the importance of education and preventive measures in oral healthcare.

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At MATTER, we believe collaboration is the best way to improve healthcare. The MATTER collaborative includes more than 1,000 current and alumni startups from around the world, working together with dozens of hospitals and health systems, universities and industry-leading companies to build the future of healthcare. Together we are accelerating innovation, advancing care and improving lives. For more information, visit and follow @MATTERhealth.

About CareQuest Innovation Partners
CareQuest Innovation Partners propels solutions that transform oral health. Together with investors, innovators, entrepreneurs, care providers and community partners, we validate and scale new ways to improve overall health through oral health. Joined by the shared mission to improve the oral health of all, CareQuest Innovation Partners is the for-profit subsidiary of CareQuest Institute. To learn more, visit