Dentists Can Identify Deadly Disease

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The dental chair could be the seat of detecting the early signs of diabetes.

And a dental visit, according to researchers at the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine, is an excellent chance to identify unrecognized and pre-diabetes conditions.

It is an excellent opportunity to intervene in the epidemic by identifying individuals with diabetes or pre-diabetes who are unaware of their condition, the researchers say in a study published in the July issue of the Journal of Dental Research.

The statistics add up. Gum disease is an early complication of diabetes, and about 70 percent of American adults see a dentist at least once a year, says Dr. Ira Lamster, the senior author of the paper and Dean of the College of Dental Medicine.

That could be a window of opportunity for dental care to play a significant role in the detection and prevention of diabetes, the incidence of which is increasing here and abroad.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in four Americans affected with type 2 diabetes remains undiagnosed. And those with pre-diabetes are at an increased risk for type 2 diabetes and also for heart disease, stroke and other vascular conditions typical of individuals with diabetes.

The window of opportunity is not wishful thinking because researchers found that only two dental parameters – the number of missing teeth and percentage of deep pockets caused by gum disease – were effective in identifying patients with unrecognized pre-diabetes or diabetes.

The researchers found this out among some 600 individuals who visited a dental clinic in New York’s Northern Manhattan. These individuals had never been told they have diabetes or pre-diabetes.

About 530 patients with at least one additional self-reported diabetes risk factor (family history of diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension or the risk of obesity) received a gum examination and a finger-stick and a hemoglobin A1c test which indicates whether an individual has diabetes or pre-diabetes.

“Early recognition of diabetes has been the focus of efforts from medical and public health colleagues for years, as early treatment of affected individuals can limit the development of many serious complications,” says the study’s lead author, Dr. Evanthia Lalla, an Associate Professor at the College of Dental Medicine.

“Relatively simple lifestyle changes in pre-diabetic individuals can prevent progression to diabetes, so identifying this group of individuals is also important,” she adds. “Our findings provide a simple approach that can be easily used in all dental-care settings.”

The study sought to develop and evaluate an identification protocol for high blood sugar levels in dental patients and was supported by a research grant from Colgate-Palmolive, the College of Dental Medicine says in a press statement, adding the authors report no potential financial or other conflicts.

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