Dental care is an integral part of the whole health of a person. It goes beyond the pain and discomfort of a cavity or an impacted wisdom tooth; there are a number of indicators for more serious whole-body health conditions, ranging from diabetes to heart conditions, that can be detected at a routine dental exam.
While dentists are concerned primarily with a patient’s oral health, a new movement among the profession is to provide overall health screening services at dental visits. Here are a few reasons why health screenings in a dentistry setting just make sense.
A Dentist Visit May be the Only Point of Contact for a Patient
In 2011, a survey found that while around a quarter of Americans don’t actually visit their primary physician at least once a year. At the same time, around a quarter of those who don’t see their primary doctors – some 20 million people – do go to their dentist for a regular check-up, to address an oral health issue, or for other orthodontic treatments.
This makes dentists the only point of contact for a significant number of Americans. Providing routine screening during these visits – checking the mouth and oral cavity for evidence of illness that are traditionally represented by oral symptoms, or even simply taking vitals like blood pressure – can provide a modicum of early warning for patients otherwise suffering from invisible diseases like hypertension or diabetes.
Dentists are In a Unique Position to Evaluate Patients
Another important distinction to make is that dentists and other dental health professionals are often in a unique position to evaluate patients, often resulting in the discovery of not just medical issues but psychosocial ones as well.
Many dentists – ones with high amounts of experience in treating younger children in particular – have shown a high rate of being able to detect signs of abuse not just in the oral health of their patients but from behavioral cues from these patients and their possible abusers. Making additional health screening standards during visits can help dental health professionals gather actionable evidence to support their suspicions and safeguard their patients.
An Aging Patient Population Requires Better Screening
As medical science continues to advance, life expectancy rates have gone up steadily over the last several decades. This means dentists will be seeing more patients of advanced age that require a more comprehensive approach to their health – which would make basic screenings at dental appointments highly appropriate.
With Baby Boomers living longer than their parents’ generation – and with Generation X and Millennials having the potential to live even longer – new dentists are already receiving more age-related dental health training than ever before. Providing the additional training and tools to screen their dental patients for more than just oral health concerns will contribute to a better overall quality of life for these patients over the course of their lives.
The push towards providing basic screening services during routine dental visits is a continuing process. Today, there are more reasons to include screening than there are reasons not to – this list is only going to continue to grow.