A grant by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has enabled dentists to screen more than 20,000 Marylanders for hypertension, or high blood pressure — a common risk factor for heart disease.

The grant funds a pilot program to encourage dental professionals to screen patients for hypertension at every visit and refer cases of elevated and high blood pressure to medical professionals and community resources for further services.

“Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Maryland, killing more than 11,000 Marylanders each year,” said Howard Haft, deputy secretary for Maryland Department of Health’s Public Health Services.

A healthy blood pressure reading is less than 120 for the systolic (upper number) and less than 80 for the diastolic (bottom number) — <120/<80.

To promote the program, the Maryland Department of Health launched a campaign, titled “Two Minutes With Your Dentist Can Save Your Life.”

The campaign educates Marylanders about the critical role dentists play in identifying undiagnosed hypertension as well as reminding dentists of the role they can play in a patient’s overall health.

As a part of the campaign, a traveling banner exhibit, coupled with a discussion explaining the importance of good oral health for better health, recently kicked off at the Enoch Pratt Free Library Orleans Street Branch in Baltimore and the Carroll County Public Library North Carroll Branch in Hampstead.

“Dentists can become the first point of contact for many Marylanders to help them identify undiagnosed high blood pressure and get them into care for follow-up screenings and treatment,” said Dr. Debony Hughes, director of Maryland’s Office of Oral Health.

“As we take our campaign on the road in 2018, we are looking forward to educating the public and involving more dentists in the program,” Hughes said.

According to health department, a 41-year-old man visiting the Baltimore City Health Department Eastern Dental Clinic, a pilot program participant, came in for an oral exam when he was screened for hypertension by the dental assistant.

The patient’s reading was 147/101, signifying high blood pressure. The dentist urged him to see his primary care provider as soon as possible since he had not reported a previous history of hypertension.

Concerned about his health, the patient visited a local emergency room, while there physicians determined that he had an undiagnosed heart condition.

Today, the patient is doing well and gives credit to the Eastern Dental Clinic staff for saving his life, the health department said.

“All too often we see patients who don’t understand the critical role oral health plays in their overall health,” said Dr. Patricia Bell-McDuffie, director of oral health services for the Baltimore City Health Department. “Bacteria found in the mouth can travel through the blood vessels that carry blood throughout the body. If not managed properly, this bacteria can create unwanted inflammation that can affect the body, including the heart.

“We always encourage patients to visit the dentist regularly,” she said. “That way we can conduct frequent screenings for hypertension and, if necessary, encourage people to stop smoking — all in an effort to increase overall health and well-being.”

The pilot program is overseen by the health department’s Office of Oral Health and the Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Control.

“Our goal is to encourage dentists to screen their patients for hypertension at every visit while empowering Marylanders to ask their dentist for hypertension screenings,” Haft said. “We believe this will ultimately save lives.”

Sarafina Wright –Washington Informer Staff Writer

Sarafina Wright is a staff writer at the Washington Informer where she covers business, community events, education, health and politics. She also serves as the editor-in-chief of the WI Bridge, the Informer’s...

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