The importance of health screening

March 21, 2012

January 14, 2010 | dentalproductsreport.comWeb Exclusive The importance of health screening  Dentists see the importance of health screening of patients and most are willing to perform it at

January 14, 2010 | dentalproductsreport.com
Web Exclusive

The importance of health screening 

Dentists see the importance of health screening of patients and most are willing to perform it at chairside.

by Richard Palmer, Senior Editor

Photo: Plattform/Getty Images

A study published in the January 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) indicates that the overwhelming majority of U.S. general dental practitioners consider medical screening important and are willing to incorporate it into their practices as a service to their patients.

Of nearly 2,000 survey respondents, the majority thought it was important for dentists to conduct screening for hypertension (85.8%), cardiovascular disease (76.8%), diabetes mellitus (76.6%), hepatitis (71.5%) and human immunodeficiency virus infection (68.8%).

According to Dr. Michael Glick, one of the study’s authors and the editor of JADA, basic health screening procedures, such as taking blood pressure, are taught in every dental school in the United States, but the range of methods should be expanded at the practice level to help identify patients at risk. “If dentists are going to do blood pressure readings, cholesterol tests, and glucose testing, they need to be able to speak with patients about the results,” said Dr. Glick.

In the JADA study, respondents said they would be willing to refer patients for consultation with physicians (96.4%), collect oral fluids for salivary diagnostics (87.7%), conduct medical screenings that yield immediate results (83.4%) and collect blood via finger stick (55.9%).

Dr. Glick also mentions the benefits of the Framingham Risk Score, which takes such specific parameters as a patient’s blood pressure, smoking habit, cholesterol level, and gender to determine the percentage risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event within a predetermined timespan. The calculations are based on an ongoing study of the population of Framingham, Mass., (now in its third generation of participants) on health factors associated with the risk of cardiovascular disease. “Almost all the information we have on heart disease in this country comes from this study,” said Dr. Glick. “It has been validated over and over again as what we should do to evaluate a patient’s risk of heart disease.” He said the test could be part of the in-practice health screening by dentists to predict patient risk of developing heart disease in the future. A similar test used in Europe, HeartScore, which goes on to determine the risk of dying from a heart attack.

Dr. Glick cautions, however, that dentists are limited to the extent to which they screen and consult. “There might be some legal issues that I am not aware of, but we are not making a diagnosis. We’re not treating patients for cardiovascular disease. We are screening patients. We are providing patients with another point of entry into the healthcare system by coming to the dentist.”

Further study
Dental professionals aren’t the only ones who see the health benefits for screening patients in the dental practice. According to Dr. Glick, a second unpublished study indicates that patients also would welcome health screening by their dentists, while a third study is being conducted to determine physicians’ attitudes on health screening in the dental practice.