Dentists could screen 20 million Americans for chronic physical illnesses: study

December 15, 2011

Nearly 20 million Americans annually visit a dentist but not a general healthcare provider, according to an NYU study published today in the American Journal of Public Health.

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 care practitioners in the front-line defense of identifying systemic disease which would otherwise go undetected in a significant portion of the population, say the researchers.

"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," said 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.

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 providers for the purposes of the survey.

When extrapolated to the U.S. population, 26 percent 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 -- nearly 13 million Americans -- did have at least one dental visit. When combined, adults and children who had contact only with dentists represent nearly 20 million people.

Ninety-three percent of the children and 85 percent of the adults had some form of health insurance, suggesting that while many of those who did not interact with a general healthcare provider may have had access to care, they opted not to seek it.

Explore further: Higher Medicaid payments to dentists associated with increased rate of dental care among children

Related Stories

Higher Medicaid payments to dentists associated with increased rate of dental care among children

July 12, 2011
Children and adolescents from states that had higher Medicaid payment levels to dentists between 2000 and 2008 were more likely to receive dental care, although children covered by Medicaid received dental care less often ...

Why disparities in dental care persist for African-Americans even when they have insurance coverage

June 16, 2011
African Americans receive poorer dental care than white Americans, even when they have some dental insurance coverage. To better understand why this is so, researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health ...

Recommended for you

Teens are growing up more slowly today than they did in past decades

September 19, 2017
Many people believe that teenagers today grow up faster than they used to, while others argue that today's youth are growing up more slowly, perhaps due to overprotection by their parents. A new study explored this issue ...

Video game boosts sex health IQ and attitudes in minority teens

September 18, 2017
A videogame designed by Yale researchers to promote health and reduce risky behavior in teens improves sexual health knowledge and attitudes among minority youth, according to a new study. The findings validate the value ...

Two Americas: Seniors are getting healthier but most gains go to high-income whites

September 18, 2017
Older Americans report feeling dramatically healthier than they did 14 years ago but that good health isn't evenly distributed, with much of the gain going to the wealthiest, most highly educated and whites.

Budget cigarettes linked to higher infant mortality rates in EU countries

September 18, 2017
Scientists already know that high cigarette prices reduce smoking rates, and that levels of smoking affect infant mortality. However until now, there have been no studies to explore the link between cigarette price differentials ...

Immune system linked to alcohol drinking behaviour

September 15, 2017
Researchers from the University of Adelaide have found a new link between the brain's immune system and the desire to drink alcohol in the evening.

A fifth of global deaths linked to diet: study

September 15, 2017
Fewer children are dying before their fifth birthday and although humans are living longer than ever before, one in five deaths last year were linked to poor diet, researchers said Friday.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.