The presupposition was that, in the dental occupation, manual skills and technique were more important than scientific education and critical thinking, which were the attributes of medical professionals, who were therefore regarded as superior to dentists. As a result, the dental trade was unregulated even as medical schools were established in the US, UK and Asia. Subsequently, the evolution of medical insurance coverage and labor-union benefits packages reinforced the separation between oral and medical health, a division which continues today even in developed economies with longstanding health-insurance programs.
This artificial divide between oral and medical health was created by the compartmentalization of knowledge in the past and the evolution of social and business norms based on entrenched presuppositions. This has resulted in many millions around the world paying a hefty price with their lives.
The separation between mouth and body in the management of health can mean missed opportunities to prevent diseases or make a timely diagnosis of a list of ailments including Alzheimer’s, heart disease, type-2 diabetes and some cancers that could be due to hidden bacteria (Porphyromonas gingivalis) in gums.
Global health agencies and medical educators should put the patient’s mouth back in the body to develop a holistic approach to preventive health, focusing on the mouth-gut axis. Likewise, healthcare policy makers and authorities, employer federations, labor unions and the insurance industry should take the collective initiative to break down the illogical barriers between oral and medical health.
The danger of uniformity
Perhaps due to the desire to show their work is rigorous, some international relations (IR) scholars tend to present their ideas and presuppositions as universal truth. One such “guiding principle” is that all sovereign states in the modern world must politically subscribe to the Western ideal of democracy and their corresponding economic system must be in line with the Western construct of capitalism.
Yet these scholars often fail to appreciate the enormous socio-political costs that may be required to succeed in achieving both goals, not to mention the huge price of failure. In their analysis, they do not take into account all the many factors that can affect the outcome of any move to democratize or to transition to a Western-style free market – everything from the physical size of a country to its wealth distribution, from its demographics to its racial and religious mix.
Unfortunately, many IR practitioners, particularly those in the Anglo-Saxon world (led by the US), are so fixed on the notion that trading and economic partners must subscribe to the orthodox Western politico-economic constructs and prescriptions. This was behind what in the 1980s was called the Washington Consensus. What is worse is that refusal or reluctance to comply or to align with the Western liberal rules-based order could leave recalcitrant or straying countries open to facing hefty penalties including tariffs, sanctions and even the threat of military action.
IR scholars, responsible for developing and propagating such a biased politico-economic construct have overlooked the dynamism of human knowledge. It is intellectually dishonest to insist that there should be only one politico-economic narrative which all countries should hew to, regardless of their history, culture or stage of development. Coercing nations to do so is in and of itself a denial of democratic values, the freedom of choice, and the right of self-determination.
The examples above demonstrate that adhering to established dogmas and leaving out crucial new knowledge that at first glance may not fit mainstream thinking could negatively affect the wellbeing of individuals, societies and countries. Doing so might even mean the difference between life and death, or military and economic conflict between nations.
Given that human knowledge is continuously evolving and fresh, original perspectives are coming out of regions that have been sidelined or marginalized in previous discourse, thought silos are unsustainable and detrimental to human progress. The curators, particularly those at institutions of higher learning and at influential organizations that are looked to as sources of insight and wisdom, need to maintain open minds and flexibility. There may not be a single truth that sets you free. In the digital age, the era of blockchains of knowledge and information, the risks from closed-mindedness and unbending doctrine can be especially grave.