Dentists often find
larger health ailments

Diabetes, osteoporosis and other
diseases can influence
treatment of teeth and gums

Dental convention hot line draws
more than 1,200 callers

By Helen Altonn

People should not just talk about their teeth when they go to their dentist.

"It's very, very important that you discuss general health issues with your dentist," says Dr. Cynthia Sherwood. "That can affect how we treat you."

Sherwood, who has a family practice in Independence, Kan., is chairwoman of the Council on Legislative and Government Affairs of the Academy of General Dentistry.

The nonprofit organization of more than 37,000 general dentists held its 50th annual meeting Thursday through yesterday at the Hawai'i Convention Center.

Among key topics discussed was the link between oral and overall health. The three biggest issues for those of baby boomer age, Sherwood said in an interview, are diabetes, osteoporosis and heart conditions.

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nationally nearly about 17 million people, or 6.2 percent of the population, has diabetes, including nearly 6 million who are undiagnosed.

Sherwood said diabetes has some symptoms that dentists see every day that could help identify the disease, she said.

Diabetics are more prone to gum disease, and it is more severe than in normal circumstances, she said.

"Gum disease that progresses rapidly makes me think the person might have diabetes."

The disease also is associated with a very dry mouth and sometimes a burning sensation in the mouth or tongue, she said.

"These are things patients could tell us to be alert for diabetes."

The first stages of bone loss in osteoporosis also may show up on dental X-rays, she said.

"We wouldn't want to put a dental implant in your mouth if you have osteoporosis and there might be some issues about oral surgery."

An increasing challenge, Sherwood said, "is the stuff people are taking from health food stores.

"We don't know what a lot of that does. Some could affect overall health. We try to find out what they're taking and what it is they're trying to improve."

Baby aspirin, which many adults take to prevent stroke and heart attack, also could create a bleeding problem if a tooth is extracted, she said.

"A lot of people do not think of that as medicine.

"The bottom line is, you need to tell your dentist everything about your general health so we can help you, and there are things we can help patients with by what we see in the mouth."

Sherwood said the oral health of children is one of the major concerns of the Academy of General Dentistry because many have no access to dental care under Medicaid or state children's health insurance programs.

"It's the largest chronic health problem for children in the United States."

Only about six states are successful at getting poor kids to the dentist, and Hawaii and Kansas are not among them, she said.

"Hawaii has a pretty poor system from what I understand."

One of the academy's jobs is to help states initiate legislative changes to increase access to dental care for children, Sherwood said, adding that the first step is to pay dentists what it costs them to see Medicaid patients.

Lack of fluoridated water supplies in Hawaii and elsewhere is another big issue, she said, noting a recent Centers for Disease Control report re-emphasizes use of fluoride.

"They're saying daily use of fluoride repeatedly -- fluoride in the water, in toothpaste, in mouthwashes, in vitamins for infants -- seems to be key in reducing dental cavities."



Dental convention hot line
draws more than 1,200 callers

Star-Bulletin staff

More than 1,200 people across the United States and Canada called a SmileLine phone bank operated by dentists Friday at the Hawai'i Convention Center.

Susan Urbanczyk, spokeswoman for the Academy of General Dentistry, said early results of the 13-hour phone line show adults 35 to 54 years old topped the list of callers, followed by 55- to 64-year-olds, then 25- to 34-year-olds.

Hot topics were questions about cosmetic dental work, bleaching and veneers, periodontal work, gum disease and flossing.

Parents were concerned about baby bottle tooth decay, when to make a child's first trip to the dentist and how to prevent tooth trauma.

More than 100 people called the toll-free dental hot line, 877-2X-A-Year (877-292-9327), to get referrals to dentists in their area.

The academy's SmileLine Online also received 187 questions in 48 hours.

People who missed talking to dentists on the Honolulu SmileLine still can get oral health advice and have questions answered by calling the national hot line or posting questions on the academy's Web site,

E-mail to City Desk


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