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Maryland Department of Health campaign: 'Two minutes with your dentist can save your life'

September 03, 2018

By Michelle Manchir

Photo of Dr. Hughes
Dr. Hughes
More dentists in Maryland are more consistently taking their patients' blood pressure thanks to a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a campaign launched by the Maryland Department of Health.

The grant is funding a pilot program to encourage more dentists to screen patients for hypertension at each visit and refer those with elevated blood pressure to a physician for a follow-up.

With program guidance from the state and local health departments, 47 dental practices have joined the program, screening more than 36,000 patients, said Dr. Debony Hughes, director of the Maryland Department of Health's Office of Oral Health.

To help raise awareness for the campaign and educate patients, the office of oral health this summer launched a campaign called "Two Minutes With Your Dentist Can Save Your Life."

Ads featuring the message will run in movie theaters, gas station pump TV screens and targeted cable TV stations throughout the state, said Dr. Hughes.

"We hope that people continue to share this message and ultimately introduce this practice to a whole new audience of dentist and dental patients," Dr. Hughes said.

Image of hypertension page"While many offices have already been participating in routine blood pressure screening for their patients, the highlighting of this protocol will expand public knowledge of the practice by the dental practitioner community," said Dr. Jane Grover, director of the ADA Council on Advocacy for Access and Prevention.

With the program in place, Dr. Hughes shared stories of patients who credit their blood pressure screening at the dental office with saving their lives, including a 49-year-old man who started blood pressure medication after seeing his physician only after his 198/120 reading in the dental office. In another case, a 46-year-old man's 140/110 reading at a dental emergency walk-in clinic led him to the emergency room, where it was discovered he needed emergency heart surgery.

"He was very grateful that his blood pressure had been taken and shared with the health service specialist that it saved his life," Dr. Hughes said.

In 2017, the American Heart Association redefined what it considered high blood pressure in adults from 140/90 to 130/80. At the time, the change meant 46 percent of U.S. adults are identified as having high blood pressure, compared with 32 percent under the previous definition.

Screening for diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol in the dental office could save the health care system up to $102.6 million each year, according to a 2014 study published by the ADA Health Policy Resources Center.

For more information about the program in Maryland, visit health.maryland.gov/oral-health.