Your Dentist Can Help Diagnose Diabetes?

Dentists Can Diagnose Diabetes?

Dentists diagnose & treat a myriad of oral health maladies, but bet you didn’t think your dentist could diagnose diabetes – or at least help to do so.

As if we need another reason to keep up our normal thrice yearly dental visits, here comes recent news out of Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in New York.

Problem: As with periodontal disease or gum disease, many people walk around without even knowing they are affected by diabetes.

About 7.2 million according to the National Diabetes Statistic Report go undiagnosed for diabetes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four people affected with type 2 diabetes in the United States remains undiagnosed.

How Can Dentists Help Diagnose Diabetes?

Those statistics are alarming, and although the CDC doesn’t differentiate between Type 1 & Type 2 Diabetes in their survey, they do state that,

“Most estimates of diabetes in this report do not differentiate between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. However, because type 2 diabetes accounts for 90% to 95% of all diabetes cases, the data presented are likely to be more characteristic of type 2 diabetes.”

But there’s an unlikely hero in the fight against type 2 diabetes…your dentist!

Solution: Develop additional methods to test and identify diabetes risk factors in an oral healthcare setting – the dental office.

“Our findings provide a simple approach that can be easily used in all dental-care settings.”

– lead author and Columbia University College of Dental Medicine Associate Professor, Dr. Evanthia Lalla.

In the study titled, Identification of Unrecognized Diabetes and Pre-Diabetes in a Dental Setting, published in the July 2011 issue of the Journal of Dental Research, researchers at Columbia University College of Dental Medicine found that dental visits present a great opportunity [for our dentists] to identify people with diabetes or pre-diabetes who are unaware of their condition.

So there’s reason number 1,286 on why keeping our regularly scheduled dental appointments not only improves the overall condition of our condition, doing so can actually save us money too.

Dr. Ira Lamster, Dean of Columbia University College of Dental Medicine, and colleagues recruited 601 people visiting a dental clinic in New York.

These 601 individuals adhered to the following qualifications:

1. 40-years-old or older if non-Hispanic white.
2. 30-years-old or older if Hispanic or non-white ethnicity.
3. Had never been told they have diabetes or pre-diabetes.

According to this press release about the Columbia study from outlining the study, approximately 530 of these patients received a periodontal examination and a fingerstick, point-of-care hemoglobin A1c test.

These patients all had at least one additional self-reported diabetes risk factor:

– family history of diabetes
– high cholesterol, hypertension
– overweight/obesity

In order for the research team to assess and compare the performance of several potential identification protocols, patients also returned for a fasting plasma glucose test, which indicates whether an individual has diabetes or pre-diabetes.

Researchers found that, in this at-risk dental population examined, a simple algorithm composed of only two dental parameters (number of missing teeth and percentage of deep periodontal pockets) was effective in identifying patients with unrecognized pre-diabetes or diabetes.

The addition of the point-of-care A1c test was of significant value, further improving the performance of this algorithm.

Why Would Dentists Diagnose Diabetes?

So what does all this dentists diagnosing diabetes news mean to the average dental patient?

“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 Dr. Evanthia Lalla, an associate professor at the College of Dental Medicine, and the lead author on the paper.

The more social connectivity enables the advancement of personal healthcare, the earlier we can identify and treat all too common oral systemic conditions.

Talk to your physician…AND your dentist!

SOURCE: Columbia University Medical Center (2011, July 18). Dentists can identify people with undiagnosed diabetes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 19, 2011, from

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on Dental Patient News and has been republished here with permission. It has since been updated for accuracy & comprehensiveness.