Next time you go for a dentist visit, you may be truly receiving an exam that involves visualizing the inside of some of the major vessels in your body from the neck up. And that is more than just a humorous way to say get your head examined. It has been found that dental panoramic X-ray views can actually show what may be "swimming through your veins," so to speak. And this is no laughing matter; it may even preserve your ability to laugh about everyday things by preventing you from developing disabilities that are the typical first signs or symptoms of a stroke, or what is now known as a brain attack--the restriction or cutting off of blood flow to the brain. If going to the dentist may now prevent you from becoming one of the 730,000 in the United States each year who suffer from a debilitating or fatal cerebral stroke, I do not know what else I can tell you to stress the importance of that regular check-up appointment.
The ability that dentists now have to detect the presence of calcified plaque that may build up in the carotid artery was discovered recently in review of the dental records of stroke victims. Now several more studies have shown that the presence of these plaques that have been observed on the full jaw X-rays of patients have been consistent with follow-up diagnostic tests, using ultrasound and magnetic resonance angiography of the carotid arteries, showing restricted blood flow to the brain before any symptoms have occured. I felt a need to stress that fact since prior to this the only sign or symptom that you may have a stroke was, uh well, that you were having a stroke: slurred speech, vision problems, loss of motor function and the terrifying possibility that you may not regain some of these abilities.
No method or detection of a disease process is totally reliable, but cost-effectiveness studies related to detecting early signs of stroke have not proven to warrant that the expensive medical studies be done on every individual. About half of all stroke victims have their problems occur in the bifurcation of the carotid artery that lies in an area very easily visualized on the panoramic jaw X-ray, which most dentists take to evaluate for wisdom teeth, cysts, hidden infections or extra teeth as part of a thorough dental exam. Therein lie the beauty and the bonus factor related to this finding. We are now reviewing past X-rays of every patient that we see daily to see if there are any signs of the presence of these plaques so we can advise our patient to seek further medical evaluation before they suffer a brain attack. I have personally had two patients who have undergone evaluation receive treatment as a result of our findings.
This revelation is not going to result in more expensive testing for something that might occur. It should not be perceived as a procedure that will drive up the cost of medical or dental care. This procedure is already routinely done and the information is there waiting to be discovered. Heck, next time you are at your dentist, ask him to check your full jaw X-ray for signs of carotid artery blockage. There are certainly more advanced technologies on the horizon that will help truly detect these types of problems much better and more efficiently, but anyone right now can preserve their quality of life by having their dentist take less than a minute look at an X-ray to see if they may want to have a further medical evaluation.
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