New Jersey dentists will become more proactive about diabetes screening among their patients starting next year.

Dr. Keith Libou, chief clinical officer of Delta Dental New Jersey, says dental patients who suffer from diabetes have a higher degree of gum disease. It also takes them longer to recover from dental procedures and surgery.

"It is going to help identify the disease process earlier than otherwise might have happened," he said.

Libou says dentists are able to identify any number of medical conditions of patients in their chair. But he says diabetes is particularly critical.

"For one thing, we know that people who have diabetes tend to have a higher degree of gum disease. And people with gum disease have a higher frequency of diabetes, but we do not know exactly what the path is and cannot say one causes the other.

"And there are other complicating factors, too. People with diabetes, especially untreated diabetes, take longer to heal. So their dental treatment, or any kind of medical surgery, could take a longer time for them to heal up afterwards."

He says Delta Dental started a pilot program with a number of dentists in some of the large urban areas. They perform diabetes testing at the chair on patients who had risk factors for the disease but were not yet diagnosed.

Libou also says it's also an effort to bridge gaps between the medical and dental professions.

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