Photos by Derek Bell
The a.m. – p.m. routine of preparing ourselves after waking and then again for sleep is one of intense focus on personal hygiene that always includes a thorough, one-on-one session between brush and tooth.
No matter how tired, rushed or reluctant we might be, twice a day we give our chompers a little TLC. We brush circles over the top and bottom, scrub the molars, and sometimes some of us even floss. Any dentist would commend such consistent care for pearly whites, but every dentist knows that there is a lot more to it; brushing is only superficial.
Would we dare to dive below the gum and attempt to understand the anatomy and the mechanics of our own little, calcified food-crushers? From enamel to root, keeping teeth and gums healthy is essential to our whole-body health.
Braving the periodontal depths of countless smiles are unsung dental heroes like Dr. Robert Lee Fletcher III, DMD, and his four-piece periodontal team at Northwest Georgia Periodontics & Implant Dentistry (1951 J.L. Todd Dr.)
As a periodontist, Dr. Fletcher specializes in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of periodontal (gum) disease. This area of dental expertise includes extensive training and three additional years of education beyond dental school.
Dr. Fletcher’s journey to Northwest Georgia began in June of 2004, directly out of residency from The Medical College of Virginia School of Dentistry. Although his biological roots were in Orlando, Fla., he searched high and low for the perfect place to replant his life with his sons, Jack and Grant, and to establish his periodontal practice. He fell in love with the close-knit comforts and community-driven energy he found in our City of Rome, and he wasn’t the only one on the move. His parents and grandmother quickly uprooted and followed.
Along with the discovery of his ideal community, Dr. Fletcher also found and joined a more-than-ideal, 30-year-established periodontal practice, one he would call his own by 2005. “[The practice] ended up being exactly what I wanted and so I bought it,” he recalls.
In June of 2011, new bones awaited NWGA Periodontics in Riverside Professional Park. “It was either invest a lot into redoing [the practice] at that [previous] location or join with the other specialists right here … and I couldn’t pass that up,” Dr. Fletcher smiles. He smiles because in his current location, his periodontal practice is part of a communal goal to better the oral and periodontal health of Northwest Georgians by offering them ease of access and efficiency. So, J.L. Todd Drive became home.
A newly constructed office was just the beginning of things to revamp for Dr. Fletcher and his team; 30 years of operation meant it was time to refine the treatment process and incorporate new methods.
“We had to bring it back up to the ideal way to practice,” he recalls, describing the technology he incorporated into the new site. Upgrades included new computer systems for scheduling, insurance filing and emails, as well as one of the most valuable upgrades, digital x-rays.
Making the upgrade from conventional to digital x-rays has eliminated the time-consuming chemical processing of traditional film and has reduced radiation levels for patients by 80%. While Dr. Fletcher knew the upgrade would be costly, he definitely saw the worth.
“It’s an immediate thing,” he says. “We don’t have to process all the chemicals; you don’t have all that pollution. You don’t have, as a business owner, all that expense to try to keep those processing machines running. You have an immediate picture on the screen, which is already digitized so you can email it to [the patient’s] dentist or to their insurance company.”
With the new site for his proactive palisade against periodontal disease standing strong, Dr. Fletcher didn’t skip a beat in his goal of saving smiles, one patient at a time.
Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 50% of Americans ages 30 and older have an advanced form of periodontal disease, and Dr. Fletcher says that some of them aren’t even aware that they have it. Fueled by this fact, he and his crew at NWGA Periodontics pour their energies into educating their patients about this silent disease lurking in the depths of toothy smiles.
Dr. Fletcher’s Treatment Coordinator and right hand, Tina Rolan, emphasizes that NWGA Periodontics’ biggest battles take place in the neighboring fields of medicine. There’s a vicious cycle that Dr. Fletcher is attuned to between the treatment of medical health problems and the maintenance of oral/periodontal health. Putting this into perspective, he says, “One person is not different from the other, per se. We all have filthy mouths, but if you start looking at what affects [the patient’s] immune system, a lot of it nowadays is medications.”
Medicines for blood pressure, cardiac problems, diabetes and seizure disorders, to name a few, all have something in common: the suppression of the immune system. This weakening of our body’s defenses poses a very fearful vulnerability in our mouths – making it the perfect target for foreign bacteria to penetrate.
Another medical concern for Dr. Fletcher is a class of drugs used to treat osteoporosis and similar bone-related diseases. “Medical specialists are increasingly prescribing bisphosphonates, which change the entire metabolism of bone,” he says. “And there are many side effects. Patients have a much higher risk for periodontal disease or fracturing and losing teeth.”
Even medical treatments such as dialysis, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and arthritis therapy cause suppression of the body’s immune system and contribute to periodontal problems.
Dr. Fletcher, Rolan and the rest of the team have made it their mission to educate not only their patients, but their patient’s physicians and oncologists as well about the harmful effects of medications on periodontal health. There is a constant flow of communication between NWGA Periodontics and any dentist or medical specialist who sees a mutual patient. Dr. Fletcher makes sure that letters, emails, phone calls and updates are exchanged in order to provide the best care possible for each patient. And he hopes that those needing care will be referred to him first so that he can help prevent further tissue, bone and tooth loss. “Each day and each year, it’s getting better and more collaborative with medicine,” he says.
The thorough, highly dedicated approach Dr. Fletcher instills in his practice has resulted in a loyal patient base that spans counties and even travels across state lines. Rolan says they take care of patients from all over Floyd and Polk counties as well as from Villa Rica, Dalton and LaGrange. A visit to Dr. Fletcher’s office might even mean a road trip for some – whether it be a short, 45-minute ride from Centre, Ala., or an all-day drive for his Floridian followers.
While Dr. Fletcher’s main practice is here in Rome, he and his team also operate a satellite office in Cartersville (13 Bowens Ct.) one day a week. His offices function on a referral basis, usually by a patient’s general dentist. However, for special attention to infected, red-flag areas; regular periodontal disease maintenance; and sometimes for special care and attention, other physicians often call upon him to help.
“Medically and mentally disabled patients are a challenge for general dentists to treat, so we have quite a few hygiene maintenance patients that aren’t so much periodontal patients, but they just need more TLC as far as sedation for cleanings,” says Dr. Fletcher, who is licensed by the State of Georgia in IV Conscious Sedation and is current in Basic Life Support, Advanced Cardiac Life Support and Pediatric Advanced Life Support.
When he found his ideal Roman root-planting soil, Dr. Fletcher also found an unmatched dental community of which he is proud to be part. Licensed dentists are required, by law, in the State of Georgia to complete at least of 40 hours of continuing education (CE) during each biennium. This includes coursework or study courses sponsored by recognized dental organizations or accredited dental colleges and universities. Thankfully, there are numerous opportunities for general dentists, hygienists and specialists to exchange experiences and gain new knowledge and advice from one another right here in the City of Rome. On occasion, Dr. Fletcher even presents at the Rome Dental Hygiene Study Club, providing CE credits for participants.
Dr. Fletcher leads a small ensemble with a big agenda and, on his end, open lines of communication stay in step with the passion and energy to preserve oral and periodontal health. Patients need only to resound the rhythm of that cadence to be a gum line closer to total-body health.