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Study explores role for dentists in fight against heart disease

A new study published in the November issue of The Journal of the American Dental Association says dentists have a "unique opportunity" to help in the fight against heart attack, one of the leading causes of death in the United States.

Health care utilization patterns indicate that individuals may be more likely to see their dentist regularly than they are to see their physician, the JADA report says.

"This could place dentists in the frontlines for identifying patients at risk of coronary heart disease," says JADA editor Dr. Michael Glick, co-author of the study with Barbara L. Greenberg, Ph.D., who works with him at the University of Dentistry and Medicine of New Jersey.

Conducting medical history reviews and measuring patients' blood pressure are "common practices" for today's dentists, the researchers note. Such procedures, along with simple chairside screenings, help dentists provide proper dental care, but they also can point to "underlying medical conditions" and risk factors that could contribute to a heart attack. A patient found at risk would be referred to a physician for consultation and treatment.

"Our study clearly suggests that dentists can play an important role in primary prevention of cardiovascular disease," report Drs. Glick and Greenberg in the JADA study.

The researchers note that some patients may resist having their dentist screen for conditions not related directly to dental health. But they also note that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for $368 billion in direct and indirect costs in 2004 alone.

"By collecting histories and conducting a few simple tests, dentists may be able to help reduce these enormous personal and financial costs," says Dr. Glick. "Most important, they may be able to help save lives."

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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