There is a dynamic, two-way relationship between nutrition status and local oral health/systemic disease. Functional alterations in the oral cavity can impact the ability to ingest and swallow a typical diet. Nutrition status may influence disease progression and recovery from infection and surgery. Malnutrition and individual nutrient deficiencies can affect tissue integrity and muscle function. The benefits of a nutrition screening program in dental practice are many. First and foremost, it provides another critical component of the comprehensive health evaluation of the patient. Other positive outcomes are numerous and include improved oral and overall health, early detection of diet and nutrition problems, improved probability of successful treatment, improved wound healing and tissue resistance, and increased communication with patients. The extent to which practitioners provide oral health-related diet information in their practices or refer patients to a registered dietitian for medical nutrition therapy varies. Registered dietitians provide comprehensive nutrition care as a component of medical nutrition therapy. The American Dietetic Association (www.eatright.org) provides a nationwide nutrition network available at their Web site to locate a registered dietitian in a particular geographic area. As the primary care provider for the oral cavity (the entry point to the gastrointestinal track), the dental professional should screen patients to determine nutrition risk, integrate the finding into the patient's treatment plan, offer appropriate guidance to manage nutrition issues related to dental sequellae, and provide the necessary referrals.
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