Dentists Are Willing to Screen Their Patients for Risk of Chronic Diseases, Survey Shows

By Lois Baker

Release Date: January 27, 2010 This content is archived.


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A nationwide survey has shown that dentists would be willing to screen their patients for medical conditions to help lower health care costs, says UB dental dean Michael Glick.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- In the national effort to lower health care costs by preventing chronic disease and hospitalizations, dentists may be an important part of the solution.

A nationwide survey published in the January 2010 issue of the JADA (The Journal of the American Dental Association) reports that dentists would be willing to screen their patients for medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases when they come to the office for dental care.

Results of the survey, the first to be conducted in the U.S. on this issue, showed that more than three-quarters of the 1,945 dentists who responded thought it was important for them to screen for hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, with a majority indicating they would be willing to check patients also for hepatitis and HIV.

"The rise in cardiovascular disease and diabetes is a global issue for which successful disease-prevention strategies require an integrated approach that incorporates health care providers across disciplines," says study author Michael Glick, DMD, dean of the School of Dental Medicine at the University at Buffalo and editor of the JADA.

"The results of this study of U.S. dentists, along with results of previous studies," Glick states, "sets the stage for a global initiative to assess the efficacy of chair-side medical screening and the attitudes of oral health care professionals about these activities."

Barbara L. Greenberg, PhD, from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, is first author on the study.

Glick and colleagues organized a preliminary survey on medical screening at the 2007 annual meeting of the American Dental Association to get a sense of dentists' attitudes, and the results were positive. To get a true representation of the attitudes on the issue from the larger dental population, the authors submitted the survey to a random-sample of 7,400 general dentists generated by the ADA Survey Center from a master file of U.S. dentists.

A total of 1,945 respondents completed the entire survey. Respondents were predominantly male (82.3 percent) and a majority (59.4 percent) were between the ages of 40 and 59. They were well established in their profession, with 84.5 percent reported being in practice for 10 years or more.

Results showed dentists would be willing to screen for a variety of chronic medical conditions: 85.8 percent would screen for hypertension; 76.6 percent for cardiovascular disease; 76.6 percent for diabetes; 71.5 percent for hepatitis and 68.8 percent for HIV. Most respondents (87.7) also indicated they would be willing to collect saliva for analysis and 90.8 percent said they would measure blood pressure. Fewer, but still a majority (55.9 percent), said they were willing to collect blood samples via finger stick.

Seventy-six percent were willing to discuss results with patients immediately, and nearly all -- 96.4 percent -- were willing to refer their patients to physicians.

"Given the existence of simple, safe, effective and relatively inexpensive screening methods, the availability of effective means of identifying patients at risk and the documented benefit of primary prevention, chair-side screening for medical conditions should be an integral component of dental practice," says Glick.

Two more studies are being prepared for publication: one on patients' attitudes toward dentists performing chair-side screenings for medical conditions, and another on physicians' attitudes toward dental chair-side screening.

Julie Frantsve-Hawley, PhD, director of the ADA's Research Institute and Center for Evidence-Based Dentistry, and Mel L. Kantor, DDS, MPH, PhD, from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, also are authors on the study.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.