More Dentists Screening for Blood Pressure in Maryland

Dentistry Today


Thanks to a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), dentists have screened 22,000 residents of Maryland for high blood pressure since the launch of a pilot program last year, reports the state’s Department of Health (MDH) Office of Oral Health

Overseen by the MDH Office of Oral Health and CDC, the program encourages 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. 

To promote the pilot, the MDH launched “Two Minutes With Your Dentist Can Save Your Life.” The campaign educates the state’s residents about the critical role dentists play in identifying undiagnosed hypertension and reminds dentists of the critical role they can play in a patient’s overall health. 

As 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. Addition exhibits will be announced throughout the year.

“Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Maryland, killing more than 11,000 Marylanders each year,” said Howard Haft, MD, deputy secretary for public health services with the MDH. “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. We believe this will ultimately save lives.” 

“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. 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,” said Debony Hughes, DDS, director of the Office of Oral Health.

When one 41-year-old man visited the Baltimore City Health Department Eastern Dental Clinic for an oral exam, the dental assistant screened him for hypertension as part of the pilot program. The patient’s blood pressure was 147/101, which is considered high. 

The dentist urged the man to see his primary care provider as soon as possible since he had not reported a previous history of hypertension. The patient immediately visited a local emergency room, where physicians determined he had an undiagnosed heart condition. Today, that patient is doing well and credits the Eastern Dental Clinic staff for saving his life.

“All too often we see patients who don’t understand the critical role oral health plays in their overall health,” said Patricia Bell-McDuffie, DDS, director of oral health services with 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,” said Bell-McDuffie. 

“We always encourage patients to visit the dentist regularly. 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,” said Bell-McDuffie.

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