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Dentists May Be Able to Spot Undiagnosed Diabetes

THURSDAY, July 28 (HealthDay News) -- Dentists may be able to help spot undiagnosed diabetes or identify people with pre-diabetes, a new study suggests.

By identifying people with the disease who are unaware of their condition, routine dental checkups present an opportunity for dentists to help fight the diabetes epidemic, said the study authors, from the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in New York City.

"Periodontal disease is an early complication of diabetes, and about 70 percent of U.S. adults see a dentist at least once a year," the study's senior author, Dr. Ira Lamster, dean of the College of Dental Medicine, said in a university news release. "Prior research focused on identification strategies relevant to medical settings. Oral healthcare settings have not been evaluated before, nor have the contributions of oral findings ever been tested prospectively."

In conducting the study, published in the July issue of the Journal of Dental Research, the scientists recruited about 600 people visiting a dental clinic who had never been told they had diabetes or pre-diabetes. Of that group, roughly 530 patients reported having at least one risk factor for the disease, such as high blood pressure or obesity. The patients were given a periodontal examination and blood tests to evaluate for diabetes.

The researchers found that just the number of missing teeth and the percentage of deep periodontal pockets might be effective in identifying people with unrecognized pre-diabetes or diabetes.

Since one in four Americans with type 2 diabetes remains undiagnosed -- and those with pre-diabetes are at increased risk for type 2 diabetes as well as heart disease, stroke and other vascular problems -- the study authors said their findings could provide a relatively simple way to help fight the diabetes epidemic.

"Early recognition of diabetes has been the focus of efforts from medical and public health colleagues for years, as early treatment of affected individuals can limit the development of many serious complications," the study's lead author, Dr. Evanthia Lalla, an associate professor at the College of Dental Medicine, said in the news release. "Relatively simple lifestyle changes in pre-diabetic individuals can prevent progression to frank diabetes, so identifying this group of individuals is also important."

More information

The American Dental Association provides more on oral health and diabetes.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: Columbia University Medical Center, news release, July 14, 2011

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