Dentists could screen 20 million for disease

NYU (US) — Dentists could play a crucial role in the front-line defense against disease, according to a study that finds nearly 20 million Americans visit a dentist every year, but not a general healthcare provider.

For the study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers examined the most recent available data from a nationally representative subsample of 31,262 adults and children who participated in the Department of Health & Human Services 2008 annual National Health Interview Survey.

Physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants were among those categorized as general healthcare providers for the purposes of the survey.


When extrapolated to the U.S. population, 26 percent of children did not see a general health care provider, but more than one-third of the same group, representing nearly seven million children, did visit a dentist at least once during that time period.

Among the adults, one quarter did not visit a general healthcare provider, yet almost a quarter—nearly 13 million Americans—did have at least one dental visit.  When combined, adults and children who had contact only with dentists represent nearly 20 million people.

“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,” says Shiela Strauss, associate professor of nursing at New York University.

Ninety-three percent of the children and 85 percent of the adults had some form of health insurance, suggesting that while many of those who did not interact with a general healthcare provider may have had access to general health care, they opted not to seek it.

According to the study, during the course of a routine dental examination, dentists and dental hygienists, as trained healthcare providers, could take a patient’s health history, check blood pressure, and use direct clinical observation and X-rays to detect risk for systemic conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.

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