By Gregory Pings, manager of Content Marketing for Xerox

Vicky Mahn-DiNicola could easily wish that the “aha!” moment never came to her. Any time your adult child checks into the emergency room with a blood glucose level over of 1350, and remains as an in-patient for 11 days following a two-day ICU stint – you will easily agree that ignorance is indeed bliss. (Normal glucose levels range from 70 to 140, depending on how long it’s been since you had a meal.)

Vicky is in charge of research and market insights for MidasPlus, a Xerox company that provides analytics for healthcare providers. In this VPBmonitor.com article, she recounts her typical mom-nurse reaction to her son’s health scare: He never got into the habit of brushing and flossing correctly.

She wasn’t wrong.

“Little did I know then,” she wrote, “that my maternal intuition was actually based in medical research, which shows a link between periodontal disease and diabetes. While periodontal disease is not known to be causative in nature, routine dental exams may lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment for some diabetic patients, which ultimately could reduce healthcare costs.”

Listen to your mother. But that’s not the aha moment. Vicky reviewed more literature:

“I was surprised to discover that dentists are often the first to recognize leukaemia and other hematologic disorders, such as acquired neutropenia, from the presence of gingivitis,” she noted on VBPmonitor.com. “In fact, at least 16 systemic diseases have been linked to periodontitis, including coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, and erectile dysfunction. These diseases are thought to be associated with periodontal disease because they generally contribute to either a decreased host resistance to infections or to dysfunction in the connective tissue of the gums, increasing patient susceptibility to inflammation-induced destruction.”

She posited that researchers could use big data analytics to mine medical and dental claims in order to find connections between periodontal disease and non-dental illnesses. Turns out, that’s nearly impossible.

Aha!

It’s not that data for dental conditions doesn’t exist, but it’s the wrong data. Plenty of data on dental procedures exists, but it’s not useful for this type of research. For this type of work, researchers need diagnostic dental data, for which very little exists.

Hmmmmm.

On the upside, Vicky notes that the College of American Pathologists developed a coding taxonomy with more than 6,000 terms that describe dental diagnostics. It’s called SNODENT (Systematized Nomenclature of Dentistry), and it shows promise – just as soon as industry stakeholders can clarify some terms and update others.

Problem solved, right? Not so fast. Adoption of SNODENT, or any other type of diagnostic coding for dental practices, faces the highest hurdle of all: money. Dental practitioners do not have the advantage of “meaningful use” incentives that distributed financial incentives to other healthcare practitioners for implementing standardized electronic medical records.

New technologies such as voice recognition or natural language processing can turn spoken or written words and phrases into structured codes that can fill massive databases. But in addition to being affordable, these technologies must be incorporated into the dentist’s workflow. Furthermore, there must be incentives to share medical and dental data across the industry.

Vicky will be talking to members of the American Dental Association in April about these challenges and opportunities at the PEARL Clinical Network Person-centered Care Meeting in Chicago.

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