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Grant supports oral health for patients with diabetes

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​It’s no 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.

In an effort to increase awareness, a recently-awarded $186,000 grant from DentaQuest Foundation will support a Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation (MCRF) pilot project designed to improve oral health of people with diabetes through education, research and better integration of medical and dental health information.

“We know if diabetic patients get proper dental treatment, where plaque is scraped off teeth and gums’ swelling is controlled, blood sugar levels go down,” said Dr. Amit Acharya, MCRF 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.

This project focuses on four initiatives: Research, patient education, provider and staff education, and development of health information technology used to improve patient care, Acharya said.

The project team plans to develop new ways to reach diabetic patients so they’re aware of what happens with poor oral health. Already, the group is looking at new ways to use video, social media and other forms of outreach.

The project team also plans to expand on the Clinic’s 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 Clinic providers’ computers, along with reminders for other important diabetic screenings such as eye exams. Acharya also envisions care teams available to perform oral exams, looking for things such as bad breath, swollen gums and loose teeth.

In Family Health Center of Marshfield, Inc. (FHC), 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,” 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, FHC director. “We know oral health is connected to other diseases, including diabetes. This project will give us support we need to develop tools that help us better reach people in need.” ​

​​The Marshfield Clinic system provides patient care, research and education in more than 50 locations in northern, central and western Wisconsin, making it one of the largest comprehensive medical systems in the United States.

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John Gardner
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