Screenings by dentists for the most common chronic medical diseases could save the American health care system as much as $102.6 million annually, according to a new study conducted by the American Dental Association's Health Policy Resources Center (HPRC).
The findings were published Feb. 13 in the American Journal of Public Health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7.8 percent of the U.S. population has undiagnosed hypertension, 2.7 percent has undiagnosed diabetes and 8.2 percent has undiagnosed high cholesterol. Screening for these conditions in dental offices could lead to savings of up to $102.6 million, or $33 per person screened, and healthier outcomes for patients.
“As many as 27 million people visit a dentist but not a physician in a given year,” Kamyar Nasseh, PhD, lead author of the study said in a prepared release. “This presents an opportunity for dentists to be part of an integrated health care team working to combat chronic illnesses.”
There is potential for additional savings over the long term through prevention, health promotion, and early interventions that the study did not model.
“We have long known that the mouth is the window to the body,” said ADA President Charles H. Norman.“But we have an increased understanding about roles that dentists can play in detecting chronic, systemic disease. This study shows that dentists can contribute to reduced health care costs in the U.S. by screening for chronic conditions.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about half of all American adults suffer from chronic illnesses, which account for more than 75 percent of health care costs and 70 percent of deaths each year in the United States. Chronic diseases are estimated to cost the country $153 billion annually in lost productivity.