Detecting Diabetes at the Dentist

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As the headlines often announce, diabetes has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, and diagnosed cases of the condition are only the tip of the iceberg: An estimated 7 million people in the country have undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes, while a majority of the suspected 67 million Americans with prediabetes are undiagnosed. But now, researchers have identified a useful — and perhaps surprising — resource that can help in the battle to detect untreated cases of diabetes: the dentist.

Investigators recruited roughly 600 people at a dental clinic in Manhattan who were at least 30 years old (if Hispanic or non-white) or at least 40 years old (if non-Hispanic white) who had never been diagnosed with diabetes or prediabetes. Approximately 530 of these participants had at least one self-reported risk factor for diabetes, such as a family history of the condition, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or obesity; people in this subset were given a periodontal exam and an in-office HbA1c test (a measure of blood glucose control) to identify potential cases of diabetes or prediabetes. For comparison, participants also returned for a fasting plasma glucose test, a standard test for detecting diabetes or prediabetes that measures the concentration of glucose in a person’s blood after at least eight hours without food or drink.

The researchers found that using an algorithm based on two dental factors — the number of missing teeth and the percentage of deep pockets in the gums — could identify people with undiagnosed diabetes or prediabetes in this at-risk population. The addition of the HbA1c test to the results further improved the accuracy of the algorithm.

Lead study author Evanthaia Lalla, DDS, noted that “Periodontal disease is an early complication of diabetes, and about 70% of US adults see a dentist at least once a year… Relatively simple lifestyle changes in prediabetic individuals can prevent progression to frank diabetes, so identifying this group of individuals is also important. Our findings provide a simple approach that can be easily used in all dental-care settings.”

To learn more about the study, read the article “Dentists Can Identify People With Undiagnosed Diabetes” or see the study’s abstract in the Journal of Dental Research.

And to learn more about keeping your mouth in top shape, check out the dental health articles on our Web site.

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