Ever see someone with a great idea and wonder why more people aren’t doing it? We found just such an example in Ohio. Starting July 1, health centers will incorporate blood pressure screenings for hypertension during all oral health visits. In a recent blog post, the Ohio Association of Community Health Centers (OACHC) explained that thanks to a partnership with the Ohio Dental Association (ODA), and with funding assistance from the Ohio Dental Association Foundation, all health centers offering dental services will check the blood pressure of patients before they undergo any dental treatment. While preparing a patient to be seen by the dentist, a dental assistant will take a patient’s blood pressure right in the dental chair. Seamlessly, the assistant will offer health education and can even make a referral to a health center physician if necessary.
“We all know there is a connection between oral health and overall health,” said Ted Wymyslo, MD, Chief Medical Officer of OACHC. “This initiative illustrates our commitment to provide comprehensive care, amplifying the dentist’s role as a health professional who sees the importance of addressing patients’ total health during their oral health visit.”
The project will make blood pressure cuffs available to all health centers that provide dental services. There will also be uniform protocol for screening patients, a procedure pamphlet for patients and a pocket reference card for providers. The blood pressure project makes sense for a host of reasons, argues Wymyslo, not the least of which is that many patients will see their dentists more often than their physician and “the mouth is the gateway to the body.” Many health enters are also participating in the Million Hearts Project [see previous blog post], a national initiative to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes by 2017 by bringing together communities, and public and private organizations to fight heart disease and stroke. Many people with hypertension, which puts them at risk for heart disease and stroke , go undiagnosed. In fact, of the 75 million Americans who have hypertension, almost half do not have the condition under control. About 15 million of them don’t know their blood pressure is too high and are not receiving treatment to control it. Yet, surprisingly, only 17 percent of dentists currently check patients’ blood pressure.
Many Ohio health centers have already put blood pressure checks into practice at their dental centers, sometimes with astonishing results. Dr. David Hoag, a dentist with Third Street Family Health Services, recalled receiving a 38-year-old walk-in female patient who needed a tooth extraction. The first reading of her blood pressure was alarmingly high at 210/112. A second reading was just a fraction lower and the patient was told she needed to see her family doctor right away because it was not safe to undergo a dental procedure in the event her blood pressure could spike. The patient did as she was advised and three weeks later the patient sent the following handwritten note:
“In all honesty my family dr. said you literally saved my life! I am eternally grateful. Please enjoy a small token of our gratitude. I will never forget your kindness.”
Beyond the positive patient stories another value to the practice will be data collection. Once the blood pressure screening dental project gets underway each dental practices will collect data including the number of patients screened and how many referrals are made for further screening and treatment. The results will be collected across the state and shared to underscore the value of a broader health perspective during dental visits.