The All-Important Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists play a very important role in every dentist’s office. Typically, a patient sees the dentist for analysis of X-rays, a dental exam, or when a problem arises. Hygienists usually take care of the preventative measures, and in the dental industry, prevention is key. Dental hygienists often are responsible for cleaning teeth, which includes removing tartar, stains, and plaque, applying sealants and fluorides to help protect teeth, taking and developing dental X-rays, and educating patients on oral hygiene techniques and other important issues. And in some offices, they do much more. They are an invaluable resource and most dental offices can not function without them. And now, thanks to a new study out of Idaho State University, dental hygienists could possibly have a larger impact on the health of their patients, with the potential to help diagnose Type 2 diabetes.

The study involved 50 patients with periodontitis who had never been diagnosed with diabetes. Researchers were looking to assess the effectiveness of diabetes screenings performed by dental hygienists using glycosylated hemoglobin values. Using this data, they were able to identify prediabetes in 32% of the participants with one test result indicating Type 2 diabetes. According to an article from the Dental Tribune, nine of the 17 participants with elevated values were advised to contact their primary health care provider within two weeks for follow-up verification of the diagnosis and potential early intervention. The researchers concluded that the screenings by dental hygienists were very effective and convenient in identifying undiagnosed prediabetes. Better yet, the mean screening time was about 14 minutes, and that included patient education. Direct costs for each exam totalled about $9, excluding follow-up medical diagnosis.

Dental hygienists play an integral part in the dental office, providing some of the most important preventative care. With evidence like this, it looks like their role could potentially expand, putting them on the frontlines of early diagnosis of other health issues as well.

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