A new study underlines the fact that the dental team are key players in keeping an eye on the health of the nation.
Nearly 20 million Americans annually visit a dentist but not a general healthcare provider, according to this study.
The study, conducted by a nursing-dental research team at NYU, 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.
This finding suggests dentists can play a crucial role as healthcare practitioners in the frontline defence of identifying systemic disease which would otherwise go undetected in a significant portion of the population, say the researchers.
Dr. Shiela Strauss, an associate professor of nursing at the NYU College of Nursing and co-director of the statistics and data management core for NYU’s Colleges of Nursing and Dentistry, said: ‘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.’
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.
The NYU research team examined the most recent available data, which came 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, a health status study of the U.S. population, which at that time consisted of 304,375,942 individuals. Physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants were among those categorized as general health care providers for the purposes of the survey.
When extrapolated to the US population, 26% of children did not see a general health care provider. Yet over one-third of this group, representing nearly seven million children, did visit a dentist at least once during that year, according to survey results.
Among the adults, one quarter did not visit a general healthcare provider, yet almost a quarter did have at least one dental visit. When combined, adults and children who had contact only with dentists represent nearly 20 million people.
SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health, published online December 15, 2011