Study reveals many dental patients don't realize they have major medical conditions

October 18, 1999

CHICAGO -- Embargoed for Release: October 18, 1999 -- Patients referred to periodontists often have no idea they have undiagnosed and uncontrolled health problems, some of which can affect their oral health and dental treatment, according to a study published in the current issue of the Journal of Periodontology.

Dental patients routinely complete medical questionnaires and review their health histories with dental professionals during their initial visit. The study compared self-reported medical histories from 39 consecutive patients with moderate to advanced periodontal disease to laboratory data obtained when patients were then referred to a hospital for a urinalysis, complete blood count and a standard blood chemistry panel.

While no patients in the study reported having diabetes, 15 percent tested positive for the disease. In addition, only 5 percent of participants reported a history of abnormal cholesterol, while 56 percent tested positive for exceptionally high values, putting them at greater risk for strokes and heart attacks.

"These and other underreported conditions found in the study are alarming because it's important for patients to know what diseases they have or are at high risk for so that they can take steps to control the diseases," said the study's lead researcher, Dr. Kelly Thompson. "From a dental practitioner's standpoint, these findings also mean that we may not always be made aware of what we're up against. Undiagnosed and uncontrolled diabetes can have a profound impact on oral health and can greatly affect treatment procedures and outcomes."

A two-way relationship between periodontal disease and diabetes exists. Diabetics are more likely to develop infections like periodontal disease, and periodontal disease makes it more difficult for people who have diabetes to control their blood sugar. Furthermore, people with diabetes and periodontal disease are more prone to recurrent periodontal abscesses (areas around teeth that are inflamed, infected and painful).

Research also points to a link between periodontal disease and heart disease. People with periodontal disease may be almost twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease as those without periodontal disease.

"This suggests that it may be especially important for people with periodontal disease to be aware when they have other risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol," said Dr. Jack Caton, president of the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP). "The findings also point out one more reason for increased collaboration between the dental and medical communities."

The study cites a need for dental professionals to emphasize to patients the importance of routine physical examinations and preventative care. "Our patients who exhibit risk factors could benefit from physician referrals," said Thompson.

Free brochures titled Diabetes & Gum Disease and Ask Your Periodontist About Periodontal Disease & Heart Disease are available by calling 1-800-FLOSS-EM or e-mailing The AAP's Web site ( can provide more information and a referral to a nearby periodontist.

The AAP is a 7,000-member organization of dentists specializing in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of tissues surrounding the teeth and in the placement of dental implants. Periodontics is one of eight specialties recognized by the American Dental Association.
EDITOR'S NOTE: For a copy of the study, contact Amanda Widtfeldt at 312-573-3243 or

American Academy of Periodontology

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