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Special Report: Disease Detecting Dentists

When the daily grind has you on the go, a trip to the doctor can easily take a back seat.
When the daily grind has you on the go, a trip to the doctor can easily take a back seat.

"I got to my primary care physician every couple of years," Patient Matt Blanton said.

"I see my primary care physician maybe annually." Mareesa Cardenas said.

According to a recent study, 20 million Americans saw not their doctor, but their dentist in 2008. That's why a growing number of dentists are looking at more than just your mouth, carrying out basic medical screenings that were once reserved for the physician's office.

"By going to the dentist, you may be saving more than your teeth, you may be saving your life," Dr. Dawn West of Tuft University said.

Dr. Dawn West is with the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine at the forefront of this movement.

"The mouth is a gateway to the human body, so dentists are in a position to detect diseases early on, such as diabetes, heart disease…" Dr. West said.

Even cancer and STDs, often before a patient even knows something is wrong. Dr. West says dentists are looking for clues like inflammation, gum damage, redness, bleeding, sores, and dry mouth.

"We can actually do sugar testing in the dental clinic by a simple blood or urine test."

Blood pressure testing is also becoming more common.

"Even before I get my cleaning I get my blood pressure taken!" Mareesa said.

Dr. Jason McCargar monitors patients like Mareesa at every appointment.

"We encounter patients with high blood pressure daily,” Dr. McCargar said. “There have been times in the past where we've actually not been able to do the procedure as scheduled, and have actually had to refer a patient to the ER."

Other dentists conduct thorough head and neck exams to look for abnormal nodules or lesions.

"And with abnormal findings, it would then prompt us, if not resolved within two weeks, to refer for a biopsy." Dr. West said.

There's even oral swabbing FOR HIV and Hepatitis. And the treatment doesn't stop there.

"It is very important for us to openly communicate consistently with our colleagues who are primary care physicians," Dr. McCargar said.

And to keep that line of communication open with patients. It's a prescription for good health Mareesa is all smiles about.
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