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The three-year study included diabetes patients with gum (periodontal) disease who were randomly selected either to receive periodontal therapy or no treatment (control group).
Those in the treatment group underwent periodontal therapy in the first year and their gum health was maintained for the following two years. The patients in the control group had incomplete periodontal therapy before the study and did not receive regular periodontal maintenance during the study.
The total annual per-patient cost of hospital admissions, doctor visits and overall medical care was an average of more than $1,800 lower in the treatment group than in the control group. The patients in the treatment group had 33 percent fewer hospital admissions.
The study was to be presented Friday at the annual meeting of the American Association for Dental Research, in Tampa, Fla.
"There have been emerging links between oral infections and systemic diseases such as diabetes, which is increasingly prevalent in our population," lead researcher Marjorie Jeffcoat, professor and dean emeritus of the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine in Philadelphia, said in an association news release.
"My research team and I had looked at other data sets and we knew that health care costs could be reduced, but we wanted to look at the hospitalizations and see how those could be reduced," Jeffcoat said. "This study provided direct insight as to how lower hospitalizations could be achieved through periodontal therapy, and we will further this study by analyzing other chronic diseases and conditions such as heart attacks, strokes and pregnancy with pre-term birth."
Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
It's also important to note that although the study showed an association between better gum care and lowered health costs for diabetics, it didn't prove that healthier gums directly resulted in fewer hospitalizations or lowered costs.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: American Association for Dental Research, news release, March 23, 2012