How a Dental Hygienist Can Help Diagnose High Blood Pressure

I’m not a killer, but don’t push me. However, high blood pressure that’s an entirely different ball game. It is often called the silent killer because a person experiencing high blood pressure usually doesn’t show signs of the condition. I check the blood pressure of every patient prior to treatment. Have you ever had your blood pressure taken during your dental hygiene visits at your dentist’s office?

The other day I had a patient whose blood pressure was high. Upon getting the average reading after having the patient rest for a bit, the blood pressure was still too high to proceed with care. It turns out they had decided to stop taking their medicine. Of course, I advised the patient to consult with their primary care physician regarding their concern about their medication. I also provided education on the importance of controlling blood pressure and how uncontrolled blood pressure can affect the health of their body in many ways.

Typically, patients see their primary care physician every year or so, yet their visits to the dentist’s office average about 2 to 4 times a year for preventive dental care. Because of the number of times we may see a patient each year, dental hygienists are in a unique position to assess and make patients aware of the risks associated with undiagnosed, untreated, uncontrolled blood pressure.

One way the U.S. Surgeon General has planned to improve blood pressure control is by optimizing patient care through the promotion of team-based care. Dental healthcare professionals are part of the patient’s healthcare team. I do not separate the mouth from my patient’s body. Sure! Dentistry’s focus is the oral cavity, it’s a health specialty, but it does not negate the fact that we are trained professionals who can consult with patients about simple health issues that can lead them back to their primary care physician. So, if I can assist with improving a patient’s overall health, I’m down for the cause.

I believe we need to stop treating the mouth separately from the body. An interprofessional collaborative effort when caring for our patients can lead to increased health outcomes. Gum disease (gingivitis/periodontitis) is associated with an increased risk of developing heart disease, and poor dental health increases the risk of a bacterial infection in the bloodstream, which can affect the heart valves. The debate of whether poor oral health causes heart disease continues. However, studies continue to link poor oral health to cardiovascular diseases. A healthy mouth is important whether the link to heart disease is direct, indirect, or coincidental!

February is American Heart Month in which heart health is highlighted. High blood pressure (hypertension) is a leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Heart disease and stroke are the first and fifth leading causes of death in the United States.

So, what is blood pressure? It’s the pressure your blood places on your arteries as it carries blood from your heart to other parts of your body. It’s measured using two sets of numbers. To be within a normal range for blood pressure level, you should aim for a blood pressure of less than 120/80 mmHg. Of course, the level appropriate for you can be determined by your primary physician. Having a consistent level at or above 130/80 mmHg may result in a diagnosis of high blood pressure. The higher your blood pressure the greater your risk for having heart disease, a heart attack, or a stroke. Having your blood pressure measured is the only way to know if you have high blood pressure.

To prevent high blood pressure

  • Complete at least 150 minutes of cardio type exercises such as walking and running weekly
  • Eat a balanced diet that has limited salt and alcohol use
  • No smoking
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Control stress

This heart month and the months following let’s work together to combat the blood pressure crisis in the U.S. Good oral health leads to good overall health!

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