Dentists can Identify Undiagnosed Diabetes in Patients

If you need another scare tactic to talk you into keeping those regular dental check-ups, here’s one just for you. A recent study has found that dentists can actually identify diabetes in patients who have not yet been “officially” diagnosed with the disease.

Research led by dentists at the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine set out to prove that dentists can do just that and their findings were published in the July 2011 issue of the Journal of Dental Research. The study tested 530 patients who claimed to have at least one diabetes risk factor–family history, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or obesity. Each patient received a periodontal examination–not unlike one most patients would receive at a check-up–and a hemoglobin A1c test. After the team made their diagnoses, they brought the patients back in for a traditional fasting glucose test to determine diabetes or pre-diabetes.

It turns out that one of the methods the dentists used to identify diabetes, a simple algorithm consisting of the number of missing teeth and percentage of deep periodontal pockets, was extremely effective in identifying undiagnosed pre-diabetes and diabetes.

“Early recognition of diabetes has been the focus of efforts from medical public health colleagues for years, as early treatment of affected individuals can limit the development of many serious complications,” explained Dr. Evanthia Lalla, the lead author on the report and an associate professor at the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine. “Relatively simple lifestyle changes in pre-diabetic individuals can prevent progression to frank diabetes, so identifying this group of individuals is also important. Our findings provide a simple approach that can be easily used in all dental-care settings.”

We’ve discussed before the link between periodontal disease and diabetes, but this is the first instance where it is proven that dental examinations can accurately diagnose diabetes and even pre-diabetes in patients. Once the testing becomes finalized and released to the dental community, it will be more important than ever for everyone to keep up with their dental check-ups twice a year.

So, when is your next dental check-up?

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