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Uche Odiatu, DMD, believes dentists should focus on nutrition and not just their own, but also their patientsâ€™.
"Being in shape isn’t only about personal wellness. It also makes a dentist a more effective ambassador for wellness when speaking with her patients." - Uche Odiatu, DMD
Uche Odiatu, DMD, isn’t the kind of person who sees things in narrow silos. Talk to him about dentistry and he’ll invariably connect it to the latest medical research on brain chemistry. Talk about fitness, and he’ll link it to productivity, even to your practice’s bottom line.
It’s all connected.
“I get all of these obscure journals,” he said. “I read the science. I digest it, and create these analogies for it.”
Those analogies find their way into the speaking engagements that increasingly fill up his calendar, including the American Dental Association’s annual meeting this October.
A dentist by training, Odiatu is also a personal trainer, writer, consultant and speaker. He came about his commitment to fitness early. Growing up in England in the 1960s, his parents fed him a health-conscious diet including health-nut staples like wheat germ, cod liver oil, and brown sugar. It made an impression.
“I found it intriguing that I could eat by design,” he said, “that there was a function behind it besides just filling your belly.”
As he became a teenager and his friends began signing up for the usual array of team sports, Odiatu preferred individual sports, fitness activities and training where he could challenge himself, and which he could continue participating in for his entire life.
He also read, everything he could get his hands on.
“I think reading trained my brain to absorb information and make deductions,” he said. “I found school very easy. And I loved science.”
It was perhaps natural then, that he would go into the field of medicine. When the time came to apply for graduate school, he had an interview at a medical school and a dental school. He underestimated the importance of the interview, “winging” his medical school interview, and learning too late that the interviewers expected interviewees to be well-rehearsed.
When his dental school interview came up a couple of weeks later, he came well-prepared, and his fate was sealed.
Though Odiatu’s interest in dentistry, medicine, and fitness may seem broad, he sees them as one intricately connected subject. He argues that all dentists should take a holistic approach, and offers a number of reasons why.
First, Odiatu says dental professionals ought to approach exercise not as something extra to fit into their already busy schedule, but rather as an important tool to boost efficiency.
“Exercise doesn’t take time,” he said. “It actually gives back time.”
Exercise boosts alertness and productivity, he said, meaning a person’s working hours can be more focused if they exercise instead of living a sedentary lifestyle.
“One of the biggest advantage of exercise is above the neck,” he said. “It’s a fact that the brain loves oxygen and it loves circulation.”
Odiatu said it’s also not about how much time you spend -- even quick, focused workouts can give a person what they need.
Being in shape isn’t only about personal wellness, Odiatu said. It also makes a dentist a more effective ambassador for wellness when speaking with her patients.
“I say get in shape and get good posture and get a flat stomach,” he said. “It’s amazing how people will resonate or move towards someone who’s in shape because your eyes are alive and bright and your speech is clear.”
One reason that’s important is because Odiatu says dentists have a role to play in helping patients understand how their oral health relates to the rest of their bodies. When a dentist is in shape, it makes patients more likely to see the dentist as an authority figure on nutrition.
After all, the food a person eats affects not only their teeth, but also their gut microbiome, which has an effect on overall health that scientists are only beginning to fully understand. Moreover, Odiatu said, problems in the mouth, such as TMJ, can impact what and how you eat, and therefore affect your overall health.
Related: For more on TMJ check out our coverage:
Odiatu said dentists can and should be an authority on such matters, in part because he said the average dentist receives more training in nutrition than the average general practitioner.
“We increase people’s ability to impact their health by changing the way people eat,” he said.
While Odiatu is well versed at explaining the importance of fitness, the question he gets all the time is how to get started; what to do first.
But Odiatu resists the pressure to prescribe specific workouts or schedules.
“You don’t need, ‘How?’” he said. “I always say let’s go first into ‘Why?’”
In his case, the “Why” is his children. He wants to live long enough to see them grow up, and he wants to be healthy enough to be an active father.
“That’s my why,” he said. “I want to be my 3 F’s: I want to be a fun, flexible, father.”
Once a person finds his “Why?” the how will take care of itself. “It becomes powerful, a magnet that literally drags you out of the door in the morning,” he said.