Wait, You’re Checking What?
Most dental patients are used to heading back to their chair and the hygienist starts cleaning right away, but did you know that there should be another step in that process? Before they do anything else, your hygienist should check your blood pressure.
Your dentist should check your blood pressure
Really. It’s something all dental hygienists learn at school, but unfortunately many of them do not carry that practice into their careers. A visit to the dentist is the perfect time to get your blood pressure checked and it can help reveal some underlying issues, potentially saving a patient’s life. Here are six reasons for a dental hygienist to check your blood pressure at every visit.
“Healthy” patients don’t see their doctor very often
Many patients who view themselves as typically being “healthy” will opt not to see their primary care physician very often, sometimes going years between checkups. These same patients, however, will still come to see their dentist 2-4 times a year for routine preventive care. This means that dental hygienists are in a unique position to assess your blood pressure and can help make sure patients are aware of the risks of untreated hypertension.
Early detection of hypertension
Speaking of hypertension, high blood pressure is known as a “silent killer” because the condition does not present many warning signs. Patients will often not know that anything is wrong until their numbers are reaching dangerous levels. By the time you start showing symptoms, consistently elevated blood pressure may have already caused damage to the heart, blood vessels, kidneys, eyes, and much more. Blood pressure screening at your routine dental visit can help catch rising blood pressure levels before any serious damage is done.
Awareness of White Coat Syndrome
Some patients experience enough stress and anxiety related to a dental visit that it temporarily increases their blood pressure. This is a fairly common medical condition called white-coat hypertension (or white-coat syndrome). If the anxiety is severe enough, it puts the patient at a greater risk of carotid atherosclerosis – meaning a higher risk of heart attack, heart failure, and stroke. There is also potential for organ damage.
So, if dental visits cause severe anxiety, how does checking blood pressure help? Awareness is key. Knowing that they are susceptible to white-coat syndrome can help patients take appropriate preventative measures to keep their blood pressure under control, helping them to take charge of their cardiovascular health and keep this temporary hypertension from becoming sustained. It also gives the hygienist a heads up that they may need to be more proactive about creating a relaxed environment for this patient. That might mean playing relaxing music, guiding them through breathing techniques, or something else, but knowing the issue exists is the first step to helping the patient.
Reducing risks during pregnancy
Maintaining healthy blood pressure levels during pregnancy is essential to the health of both mother and child. Preeclampsia is a fairly common but very serious condition during pregnancy related to high blood pressure that can prove fatal if left undetected. While their practitioners should be checking blood pressure at every OB visit, blood pressure can change fairly rapidly during pregnancy and having it checked at routine dental visits can help catch problems like preeclampsia as early as possible.
Type II diabetes is another common “silent killer” in the United States. While not caused by high blood pressure, hypertension is a common symptom of diabetes and can be one of the earliest warning signs for this condition. Since early detection is the best way to avoid the most dangerous effects of type II diabetes, getting your blood pressure checked during a dental visit may give you the advance notice you need to regain control of your health.
Required for even local anesthesia
During many dental procedures, patients opt for an anesthetic. But there are several types of anesthetics available and some may not be appropriate for patients with high blood pressure. So, if you are having even local anesthetic injections, expect to have your hygienist check your blood pressure.
Your next appointment
Next time you go in for your season dental checkup, don’t be surprised or worried if the hygienist checks your blood pressure. This is just one of the great tools we have to help you stay as healthy as possible. If you need to schedule an appointment or have any questions, please visit our website or give us a call at (540) 635-2493.