Dentists on the Front Line of Health Care

***UPDATED: March 10, 2015*** Nearly 8 million Americans are currently living with diabetes unknowingly, and many more who do know they have the disease,  have poor glycemic control. While not everyone visits their dentist annually, they are more likely to do so over visiting a primary care provider, giving dentists a unique opportunity to screen and monitor for diabetes for many at-risk patients. This practice isn’t commonly found currently, but recent research may make the screening more widespread. The study, discussed in a recent Medical News Today article, confirms that using gingival crevicular blood (GCB) for hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) testing produced values that were nearly identical to those obtained using finger stick blood (FSB). Testing HbA1c is promoted by the American Diabetes Association for diabetes diagnostic purposes. “Our study has considerable public health significance because we identify the value and importance of capitalizing on an opportunity at the dental visit (a) to screen at-risk, but as yet undiagnosed patients for diabetes (especially those 45 years or older) and (b) to monitor glycemic control in those already diagnosed so as to enable them to maintain their health to the greatest extent possible,” said Dr. Sheila Strauss, the study’s principal investigator.

***UPDATED: January 31, 2014*** The good news is that lung cancer is on the decline with more and more Americans saying “no” to cigarettes.  The bad news is that it is still responsible for causing the most cancer related deaths in our country.  Like most health conditions, early detection is critical and survival rates significantly increase with early diagnosis.  Researchers are constantly seeking the latest and greatest, early detection tests to help eradicate this horrible disease.  For example, a recent study has found that certain compounds in exhaled breath could help diagnose lung cancer in its earliest stages. The primary tool, a silicone microprocessor and mass spectrometer, developed at the University of Louisville, tests exhaled breath for the presence of specific volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  Although testing is still in early stages, researchers found that patients with an elevation of several cancer-specific compounds were predictive of lung cancer in 95% of patients. With exhaled breath being easily collected, this test could change the way lung cancer is diagnosed, saving millions of lives worldwide.

It came as a surprise to me when I recently read an article on the Medical News Today website about the average number of Americans who visit their dentist annually, but not a general healthcare provider.  The article, “Dentists Could Screen 20 Million Americans For Chronic Physical Illnesses,” stresses the importance of the role played by dentists in overall health care.  According to the study, which was compiled by a dental research team at NYU, dentists could in fact detect serious conditions during a routine dental examination that may go undetected if a patient doesn’t normally see a general health care practitioner.

Cosmetic and sedation dentists are trained healthcare providers, and are able to look at patient’s health history, use clinical observations, x-rays, and blood pressure to monitor or detect symptoms of conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease, many of which are linked to oral health.  The NYU research team used data from a recent Department of Health and Human Services annual National Health Interview Survey to draw their conclusions.  The data showed that 26% of children didn’t see a general health care provider over a year’s time, but 1/3 of this group did have at least one dental visit.  One quarter of the adults surveyed didn’t see their physician, but almost a quarter of that group did see the dentist.  When applying these statistics to the American population, they deduced that approximately 20 million patients saw their dentist, but not their family doctor.

Even more striking is that 93% of the children and 85% of the adults did indeed have some sort of health insurance.  This suggests that they did have access to a physician, but chose not to use it.  “For these and other individuals, dental professionals are in a key position to assess and detect oral signs and symptoms of systemic health disorders that may otherwise go unnoticed, and to refer patients for follow-up care,” said Dr. Shiela Strauss, co-director of the statistics and data management team for NYU’s Colleges of Nursing and Dentistry.  This study only solidifies how important it is to regularly visit your dentist, not only for your mouth’s sake, but for the sake of your overall health as well.

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