An opening for early detection: What your mouth says about your health

The UAB School of Dentistry has developed a new way of screening for potential health risks.

nico geurs 2017Nico Geurs, DDSDentists and hygienists see more than just teeth. They can see early signs of certain diseases — often before patients know they have them.

“The mouth is a mirror of the body,” said Nico Geurs, DDS, University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Periodontology chair.

That unique view into patient health prompted the creation of the UAB Dentistry Wellness Clinic, which supplements regular oral exams with screenings for major health risks including high blood pressure, sleep and nutrition issues, diabetes, and tobacco-related disease. Opened in 2016, the clinic now sees 90 patients each month. Geurs, who is the Dr. Tommy Weatherford/Dr. Kent Palcanis Endowed Professor and directs the clinic, says the UAB School of Dentistry is taking a national lead with this combination of care.

Many diseases can show their first symptoms in the mouth and can be discovered through routine dental examinations, Geurs says. Early detection of these diseases, which include diabetes, leukemia and oral cancers, can improve treatment outcomes. While Geurs and his staff cannot diagnose medical conditions, they can recognize signs and recommend that patients seek appropriate diagnosis and care from their physicians.

“Dentistry has emphasized wellness and preventive care with a focus on oral health,” he said. “Now our team aims to optimize overall health through great oral care.”

The regularity of dental checkups offers an opportunity to observe changes in a patient’s health.

“With this clinic, we want to provide such good oral care that our patients don’t leave. We want to build a long-term relationship with our patients focused on overall health.”

“In dental care, the most important thing we provide is maintenance care,” Geurs said. “With this clinic, we want to provide such good oral care that our patients don’t leave. We want to build a long-term relationship with our patients focused on overall health.”

Ginger Sebert, the clinic’s full-time wellness hygienist, acts as the clinic’s central nervous system, according to Geurs. She conducts both dental exams and wellness screenings.

“Ginger excels in compassion, clinical skills and knowledge about oral health impact on overall health,” Geurs said.

“Everything is connected,” Sebert said. “I’m happy when our patients have good dental visits, but also when they follow up with their physician after we show them signs of health concerns.”

This story originally appeared in the UAB Magazine. View more of their stories online.

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