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Science Cafe takes bite out of disease through oral health

Dr. Amy Martin gets ready for an unusual venue for an academic speaker

Dr. Amy Martin
Dr. Amy Martin, who directs the Division of Population Oral Health, stands outside the dental clinics at MUSC. Photo by Sarah Pack
Helen Adams | | February 9, 2018

When public health scientist Amy Martin gives a talk, there usually aren’t TVs showing sports and taps pouring beer nearby. “This will definitely be a first, talking and giving a presentation in a bar. This will be new,” she said with a smile.

Martin will give the next Science Cafe talk for the Medical University of South Carolina on February 20 at 5:30 p.m. at Charleston Beer Works. Loretta Lynch-Reichert, director of the Office of Strategic Initiatives at MUSC and organizer of the Science Cafes, said the events are casual discussions about research for the public. “We want to engage our communities. They’re very important to us, and help guide the direction we take with research.”

Science Cafes are growing in popularity, she said, emphasizing issues of interest to a diverse audience. The most recent MUSC Science Cafe looked at health concerns linked to mass violence, drawing people who had different perspectives on the subject and generating an enthusiastic discussion.

Martin is calling her upcoming talk “Taking a bite out of disease through oral health.”

“We’ll talk about the importance of oral health and how it relates to other systemic health issues,” she said. “That includes its role in managing and reducing inflammation and positively affecting diabetes-related outcomes, its role in pregnancy, its link with memory disorders. I think we spend a lot of time thinking about oral health for oral health sake, but people don’t realize it’s the gateway to everything else that your body does.”

Martin is an associate professor and director for the Division of Population Oral Health in the James B. Edwards College of Dental Medicine and serves as a senior investigator at the South Carolina Rural Health Research Center at the University of South Carolina.

“My background is really in rural health policy. I spent the first 15 years of my professional life working in rural primary care, hospitals, health policy issues. We saw the impact of getting your dental needs met on medical conditions.”

For example, there’s a relationship between diabetes and gum disease, she said. “We know that when your gums are inflamed, it can cause inflammation in other places, which can drive up your A1C.”

A1C is a test that checks the blood glucose level of a person with diabetes. “We know that in somebody who has uncontrolled diabetes, when they are receiving ongoing dental care, their risk of elevated A1C goes down. It’s not a huge reduction, but it is a reduction that’s directly linked to the care that comes through the dental office. From a health policy perspective, we like that because we know when that happens we reduce the cost of care by $10,000 per person, per year.”

Other upcoming MUSC Science Cafes in downtown Charleston will focus on chronic disease related to Western diets, addiction and the origins of cancer. Lynch-Reichert said plans are also in the works to hold Science Cafes outside of Charleston.

“We’re going to take this model and try to customize it to different groups in the Tri-county area. Our faculty are incredibly innovative and passionate about finding solutions. They love to share their work with the community, explaining how the research influences both health and health care.”

Lynch-Reichert said Martin is a good example of that. “She’s very aware of the public and how they can benefit from oral health. It’s an entryway for a lot of chronic disease. Dr. Martin is very energetic and enthusiastic — she knows how to connect with people in a way that is understandable and informative, and then very comforting, too.”

Dr. Michael Schmidt previews his Science Cafe (MUSC News, May 5, 2017)

Pain, pills and pregnancy: A Science Cafe talk (MUSC News, Jan. 6, 2017) 

Science Cafe to show ugly side of collagen (MUSC News, Feb. 17, 2016)

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