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Periodontal disease still 'under diagnosed' despite prevalence

Periodontal disease is an infectious disease with potentially serious health implications.

Now a group of dentists, doctors, academics, insurance companies and public policy experts have come together to explore the relationship between periodontal disease and overall health, and raise the public’s awareness of the disease and its risks.

The National Periodontal Disease Coalition has spent the last six months investigating periodontal disease. At its June meeting, coalition member Dr. Moise Desvarieux, assistant professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, presented groundbreaking research showing strong evidence of a relationship between specific periodontal bacteria and "carotid intima-media thickness"-a leading predictor of stroke.

Prior to Dr. Desvarieux's findings, studies had relied on surrogate markers of bacterial infection.

"Periodontal disease is no longer just about teeth," Dr. Desvarieux said. "It's about the whole body. Increasingly, we are seeing physicians talk to their patient about oral bacteria and gum disease. The boundaries that used to exist between medicine, dentistry and public health are beginning to crumble."

More research is needed to further investigate oral bacteria and overall health, the coalition noted. However, more patient education, screening and prevention programs are key priorities. Several members of the coalition urged employers to initiate worksite screening and wellness programs.

"Having a standard diagnostic procedure and treatment recommendations are critical steps toward improving a patient's overall oral and systemic health," said Robert J. Klaus, president and CEO of Oral Health America. "Despite the prevalence of periodontal disease among adults, it is still under diagnosed and under treated, putting patients at risk for systemic disease."

Treating the disease-and preventing potentially serious health conditions-depends on early detection, added Mr. Klaus.

"Increasingly, the medical community is recognizing the importance of dental screening and treatment to overall patient health," he said. "The extraordinary prevalence of periodontal disease makes its impact on systemic health very important."

Please contact the ADA if you have questions about this article.

©2010 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

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