Now there’s one more reason to go to the dentist: patients may find out if they have diabetes.

Research from the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine reveals that dental visits provide an opportunity to identify diabetes by looking for periodontal disease during a trip to the dentist’s chair.

Periodontal diseases, such as gingivitis or periodontitis, are “early complication[s] of diabetes” according to Dr. Ira Lamster, dean of the College of Dental Medicine, and senior author on the study.

The study sought to develop a protocol by which to identify high blood sugar levels in dental patients as well.

"Prior research focused on identification strategies relevant to medical settings. Oral healthcare settings have not been evaluated before, nor have the contributions of oral findings ever been tested prospectively," Lamster said in a news release about the study.

Lamster and his colleagues recruited 600 dental patients from a clinic in Northern Manhattan who were 40-years or older (if non-Hispanic white) and 30-years or old (if Hispanic or non-white) and who had no knowledge of their diabetes status.

About 530 patients, including one patient who acknowledged having risk factors conducive to diabetes, went through a periodontal examination and the hemoglobin A1C test, a common test used to determine blood sugar levels.

Patients then returned to have a fasting plasma glucose test performed to measure the dental exams against.

A fasting plasma glucose test determines if a patient has diabetes or pre-diabetes.

Researchers discovered that an algorithm using only two dental components (the number of missing teeth and the percentage of deep periodontal pockets) was effective in determining a patient’s diabetic status.

When the non-dental components were factored in, namely the hemoglobin A1C test, the algorithm’s results improved.

"Relatively simple lifestyle changes in pre-diabetic individuals can prevent progression to frank diabetes, so identifying this group of individuals is also important," said Dr. Evanthia Lalla, an associate professor at the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine, and the lead author on the study.

"Our findings provide a simple approach that can be easily used in all dental-care settings," she said.

The study was supported with a grant from Colgate-Palmolive. It appeared in the July 2011 issue of the Journal of Dental Research.