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Dentists More Popular Than Doctors

Despite the common advice to seek annual exams from a physician, more Americans are skipping that process and are instead spending more time at the dentist. The findings have come from New York University Colleges of Nursing and Dentistry and based on surveys, researches have found that 20 million citizens (or 6 percent of the entire nations population) have managed to fit dental care into their 2011 regime while neglecting trips to the doctor’s office. That move has made dentists the first line of defense in managing the health of their patients.

The study, (published in American Journal of Public Health, December 15, 2011) is the first that specifically compares the number of doctor versus dental office visits for both children and adults in the nation. The results have indicated that seeking dental care is all the rage. That has put dentist in the position of being the front-line defense for proper disease diagnosis for a huge fraction of Americans.

Dentists as Health Care Practitioners

The nation’s health industry is clearly divided into branches, medicine and dentistry. Each faction requires its own type of education, skill set and insurance. Despite the professional distinctions between the two, the mouth/body connection is forever intertwined and the study findings may greatly influence the role of a dentist in the future.

As it now stands, since more people are prone to visit a dentist as opposed to seeking the medical opinion of a doctor, researchers are encouraging dentists to play a bigger role in disease diagnosis by acting as general health care practitioners. While dentists focus in on the mouth and oral health, their (and their staff’s medical training) allows them to including health check screening including the tests for blood pressure, cancer and reviewing X-rays as a way to catch systematic diseases in their earliest stages.

Dentists for Diagnosis

Over time, medical experts have agreed that the oral cavity is a microcosm that can be used to help determine the general health of a patient. High levels of dental plaque, mouth sores and tooth decay will not only destroy teeth, those dental problems may also indicate other health issues including diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, dementia and lung conditions. Since more citizens are visiting dentists over doctors, the new study may influence health advocates to encourage more changes to the existing system.

Study author Shiela Strauss (a professor at New York University College of Nursing) has suggested that dentists should ask their patients health screening questions or should provide health screenings for diseases such as diabetes (as previous research has indicated that dentists can be incredibly competent in diagnosing per-diabetes). According to Strauss “The dental office might be a really good venue for identifying or screening for diseases. The dentist, in turn, could refer patients to a primary care provider for further workup,” (http://www.dental-tribune.com/articles/content/scope/news/region/usa/id/7039).

The Number Don’t Lie

The study results were generated from researches analyzing the data of more than 31,200 adults who participated in the 2008 U.S. National Health Interview Survey. The findings indicated that 26 percent of U.S. children did not visit a doctor but over one-third of them (approximately 7 million) of them did get to see a dentist at least once in that year. Additionally, the research indicated that 25 percent of the nation’s adults also skipped going to a doctor, but nearly 13 million of those folks made it to the dentist at least one in 2008.

Until the information was released, many industry insiders believed that doctor visits, not trips to the dentist, were the norm. It was that assumption that helped shaped health care strategies across the nation.

One example comes from the Pew Center on the States, an independent think tank that focuses its energies on addressing issues impacting the nation and world at large. The nation’s decline in dental health has been a top priority and as a result the Pew Center has produced a state-by-state report card system grading public policy regarding dental health. The study, called the “Cost of Delay” has used the criteria of doctors being reimbursed by Medicaid for implementing preventative dentistry, as one of the ranking criteria. However since doctor’s visits have declined, the criteria may no longer be as important in the future.

No matter what vision is garnered from the new insight, the fact is that oral hygiene and dental care can go a long way to ensure the health of you and your family.

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