It's increasingly no big secret in the health care community that gum disease is linked to diabetic complications.
But for many people, including those with diabetes, this may come as a surprise. A recently-awarded $186,000 grant from DentaQuest Foundation will support a Marshfield Clinic Research Institute (MCRI) pilot project designed to improve the oral health of diabetic patients through education, research and better integration of medical and dental health information.
"We know if diabetic patients get proper dental treatment, where the plaque is cleaned off their teeth and the gums' swelling is controlled, blood sugar levels go down," said Amit Acharya, B.D.S, M.S., Ph.D., Dental Informatics scientist and principal investigator for the project.
"We're very grateful to partner with DentaQuest Foundation, as we work to get more diabetic patients the dental care they need to live healthy lives."
Boston-based DentaQuest Foundation, established in 2000, works with partners across the U.S. to raise awareness, connect key leaders and support efforts to improve oral health. DentaQuest is a leading oral health company, administering prevention-focused dental benefits to more than 20 million Americans.
"We were made aware of the work Marshfield Clinic was doing on diabetes and oral health," said Ralph Fuccillo, president of DentaQuest Foundation and chief mission officer for DentaQuest. "Our mission is to improve oral health for all and we are always seeking to engage people who can really make a difference."
MCRI went through a competitive and thorough grant review process, according to Fuccillo.
That's important, because DentaQuest depends on partners in the field who are well managed and willing to share knowledge. The project team plans to develop new ways to reach diabetic patients, so they are aware of the ramifications of poor oral health. Already, the group is looking at new ways to use video, social media and other forms of outreach.
Dr. Acharya said the project team also plans to expand on the Clinic's current health information technology that provides preventive service reminders for health care and dental providers. So, if diabetic patients are due for oral health exams, reminders will pop up on providers' computers, along with other important diabetic screenings such as eye exams.
Dr. Acharya also envisions care teams available to perform oral exams, looking for things such as bad breath, swollen gums and loose teeth. In the dental centers, the project team wants to implement a system that uses body mass index, age and other variables to determine if a person is at risk for diabetes.
"For too long, dental and medical care haven't operated in concert. Marshfield Clinic is in a special position, where its providers have integrated medical and dental electronic health records. This allows for a level of unmatched, holistic care," Dr. Acharya said.
"We hope we can help people better understand the importance of oral health, when they're looking at ways to control their diabetes. This needs to be considered with all other risk factors."
The pilot project also has received financial support from Marshfield Clinic's Division of Education, Security Health Plan, Inc., and Family Health Center of Marshfield, Inc., which, in conjunction with Marshfield Clinic, operates nine dental centers in Wisconsin.
"Every day, our dentists and hygienists see patients facing health concerns that go far beyond the mouth," said Greg Nycz, director of Family Health Center of Marshfield. "We know oral health is connected to other diseases, including diabetes. This project will give us the support we need to develop tools that help us better reach these people."
As Fuccillo put it, "It will be wonderful if patients, especially those trying to manage diabetes, will on a regular basis ask for attention to their mouth and make sure it's well-addressed."