Nearly 20 million Americans annually visit a dentist but not a general healthcare provider, according to an NYU study published in the American Journal of Public Health.
The study, conducted by a nursing-dental research team at NYU, is the
first of its kind to determine the proportion of Americans who are seen
annually by a dentist but not by a general healthcare provider.
This finding suggests dentists can play a crucial role as health care
practitioners in the front-line defense of identifying systemic disease
which would otherwise go undetected in a significant portion of the
population, say the researchers.
"For these and other individuals, dental professionals are in a key
position to assess and detect oral signs and symptoms of systemic health
disorders that may otherwise go unnoticed, and to refer patients for
follow-up care," said Dr. Shiela Strauss, an associate professor of
nursing at the NYU College of Nursing and co-director of the statistics
and data management core for NYU's Colleges of Nursing and Dentistry.
During the course of a routine dental examination, dentists and dental
hygienists, as trained healthcare providers, can take a patient's health
history, check blood pressure, and use direct clinical observation and
X-rays to detect risk for systemic conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.
The NYU research team examined the most recent available data, which
came from a nationally representative subsample of 31,262 adults and
children who participated in the Department of Health & Human
Services 2008 annual National Health Interview Survey, a health status
study of the U.S. population, which at that time consisted of
304,375,942 individuals. Physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, and
physician assistants were among those categorized as general health care
providers for the purposes of the survey.
When extrapolated to the U.S. population, 26 percent of children did not
see a general health care provider. Yet over one-third of this group,
representing nearly seven million children, did visit a dentist at least
once during that year, according to survey results.
Among the adults, one quarter did not visit a general healthcare
provider, yet almost a quarter -- nearly 13 million Americans -- did
have at least one dental visit. When combined, adults and children who
had contact only with dentists represent nearly 20 million people.
Ninety-three percent of the children and 85 percent of the adults had
some form of health insurance, suggesting that while many of those who
did not interact with a general healthcare provider may have had access
to general health care, they opted not to seek it.