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Could Dentists Double As Doctors?

Could Dentists Double As Doctors?
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Research out of NYU points to the oral hygiene industry as the new front line for preventative medicine.

Sam McNerney
  • 19 january 2012

A new study published in the American Journal of Public Health released the findings from data collected by a nursing-dental research group at New York University (NYU), and is the first of its kind to determine the proportion of Americans who are seen annually by a dentist but not by a general healthcare provider. The team analyzed data from 31,262 adults and children who participated in the Department of Health & Human Services 2008 Annual National Health Interview Survey.

While the study shows that 93 percent of children and 85 percent of adults have some form of health care insurance – a positive outcome – the researchers determined that this did not equate to regular interactions with a general healthcare provider. In fact, the study illustrates that 26 percent of kids and nearly one fourth of adults did not see a general healthcare provider during the period when the study was conducted. But the NYU team did find that about 20 million Americans – about 13 million adults and 7 million kids – visited a dentist. This fact suggests, as an article on NYU.edu explains, that dentists could double as front line healthcare practitioners, helping to identify systemic diseases which would otherwise go undetected:

During the course of a routine dental examination, dentists and dental hygienists, as trained healthcare providers, can 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.

And according to Dr. Shiela Strauss, associate professor of nursing at the NYU College of Nursing:

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.

Given the push to transition to a preventative model of care, as a way to drive down costs and improve general health at the level of the individual, a new role for dentists could prove key in making the larger shift possible. Which all adds up to mean that forgetting to floss might not be the only thing that patients need to be wary of when next visiting the dentist for their annual checkup.

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