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Dentists Could Fill Gap in Health Care, Study Says

THURSDAY, Dec. 15 (HealthDay News) -- Nearly 20 million Americans who see a dentist at least once a year don't see a doctor or other general health care provider, which suggests that dentists could screen these people for systemic health disorders, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease, a new study says.

New York University investigators analyzed data from more than 31,200 adults who took part in the 2008 U.S. National Health Interview Survey.

Based on those findings, the researchers determined that 26 percent of U.S. children did not see a general health care provider (physician, physician assistant, nurse, nurse practitioner), but more than one-third (7 million) of those children did visit a dentist at least once in 2008.

One-quarter of U.S. adults did not visit a general health care provider, but nearly a fourth (13 million) of those adults visited a dentist at least once in 2008.

Eighty-five percent of the adults and 93 percent of the children had health insurance. This suggests that many of those who did not see a general health care provider may have had access to general care, but chose not to seek it, the researchers said.

They said their findings suggest that dentists could play an important role in identifying health problems that might otherwise go undetected in a large segment of the population.

"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," Dr. Shiela Strauss, an associate professor of nursing at the New York University College of Nursing and co-director of the statistics and data management core for NYU's Colleges of Nursing and Dentistry, said in an NYU news release.

She explained that dentists and dental hygienists can take a patient's health history, check blood pressure and use direct clinical observation and X-rays to detect risk for systemic health disorders.

The study was published Dec. 15 in the American Journal of Public Health.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about regular health check-ups.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: New York University, news release, Dec. 15, 2011

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