Open Menu
Can Dental Students Help Prevent Diabetes?

Article Image

Written by Adam Zewe

University of Maryland School of Dentistry students carefully study their test results, hoping that their scores aren't too high. This is not a typical exam; the dental students are learning to perform blood glucose tests during a class on diabetes and its relationship to dentistry. Blood glucose readings that exceed 180 mg/dl can possibly mean that a person is diabetic.

For many of the patients these students will treat, maintaining normal blood glucose levels is a serious concern. Nearly 26 million Americans suffer from diabetes, while as many as one in three American adults are expected to be diabetic by the year 2050, according to the American Diabetes Association. Those statistics emphasize how important it is that dental students learn to help their patients monitor and understand blood glucose levels, says Gary Hack, DDS '79, associate professor in the Department of Endodontics, Prosthodontics, and Operative Dentistry.

The School of Dentistry has partnered with the Maryland Office of Oral Health to acquire 50 blood glucose monitors. Hack is training all second-year dental students to use the monitors with their patients. While the students cannot diagnose diabetes, they can screen and refer at-risk patients to physicians for further testing. "We are not just treating teeth, we are treating individuals. Testing dental patients' blood glucose levels will become the standard of care in the future, so by learning these techniques, our students will be on the front line," says Hack. "This diabetes epidemic is predicted to bankrupt our medical system unless there is significant intervention. Dentistry will play a major role in addressing this problem."

Hack also teaches the students about the bi-directional relationship between diabetes and dental disease. For example, periodontitis (gum disease) is often more severe in diabetic patients. Recent scientific evidence also shows that diabetes can hinder the effectiveness of endodontic therapy and the success of dental implants. A dental office is the ideal place for diabetes screening, Hack explains, since many patients visit their dentist more often than they see a physician.

Dental student Chris Tolmie, DDS '16, is looking forward to testing his patients' blood glucose levels. "This will help patients understand that, as dentists, we are not exclusively limited to oral conditions, but we are also aware of what is occurring systemically. My hope is that this effort will open a window for more open discussions of a patient's overall health, and how it directly impacts their oral health status," Tolmie remarks.

More Information