Global Health Nexus, Summer 2003

Message from the Dean

Our goal is to persuade dentists to pay more attention to diabetes in their patients, and to interact more readily and actively with their physician-colleagues in the management of diabetes.

Despite evidence of a growing link between diabetes and periodontal disease, along with recent studies confirming that treatment of periodontal disease is one of the most important things that can be done for diabetes patients, dentists generally do not screen their patients for diabetes. Similarly, physicians generally do not monitor a variety of signs to determine whether their diabetic patients are at risk for oral health problems and do not generally refer their diabetic patients to dentists. As a result, most diabetic patients are not aware of the oral health implications associated with their disease and the importance of preventive care.

This gap in monitoring has staggering public health implications, since nearly one-third of the 17 million Americans with diabetes also have severe periodontal disease, with loss of attachment measuring five millimeters or more. While it’s true that, until recently, there has been little understanding of the mechanisms by which periodontal infections can contribute to diabetes and other significant systemic conditions, the past five to ten years have brought promising investigations in this area. There is now mounting evidence that dentists need to be much more aggressive in treating periodontal disease in people with diabetes, and in educating their medical colleagues on the importance of consulting and referring diabetic patients to dentists. 

In this issue of Global Health Nexus, we shine a much-needed light on the relationship between diabetes and periodontal disease. Our goal is to persuade dentists to pay more attention to diabetes in their patients, and to interact more readily and actively with their physician-colleagues in the management of diabetes. An added goal is that this enhanced understanding among professionals will lead to greater knowledge about the importance of oral health among people who suffer with diabetes.

Joining us in this endeavor is one of our nation’s most distinguished researchers and educators, Dr. D. Walter Cohen, Dean Emeritus of the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine and Chancellor Emeritus of the Drexel University College of Medicine. Among the highlights of Dr. Cohen’s article is a case study of a diabetic patient whom he treated for 39 years! We are also privileged to have two outstanding NYU College of Dentistry faculty contributors, Dr. Ron G. Craig, Associate Professor of Basic Science and Craniofacial Biology and of Periodontics, and Dr. Anthony T. Vernillo, Professor of Oral Pathology. Indeed, in our “Practicing for LifeSM” column, Dr. Vernillo brings to bear his unique perspective as a dentist, basic science researcher, and a diabetic. I am pleased to report that Drs. Vernillo and Craig have also been invited to write feature articles for a forthcoming supplement on diabetes to the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA), which is being cosponsored by Colgate-Palmolive. Among the many promising developments in diabetes research that Tony plans to cover in his article is the therapeutic cloning of stem cells to make them into mature, insulin-producing cells, an event that will likely provide a definitive cure for diabetes.

Residency Program Transformation
Thanks to the generosity and vision of Dr. Jonathan Ferencz, a distinguished alumnus, prosthodontist, and faculty member at NYU, and his wife Maxine, their dream of helping to build the 21st century’s definitive specialty training program in prosthodontics is now guaranteed to become a reality. In recognition of a $1 million pledge from Jonathan and Maxine, our Advanced Education Program in Prosthodontics has been named the Dr. Jonathan and Maxine Ferencz Advanced Education Program in Prosthodontics. Their pledge ensures the financial support needed to catapult an already distinguished program into the ranks of the world’s leading prosthodontics specialty training programs. 

Enterprises That Span Borders and Cultures
This issue’s “International Partners in Health” section provides a number of dramatic examples of the depth and breadth of NYU Dentistry’s commitment to bring the oral and craniofacial health needs of nations across the globe into sharp focus, including a report from Dr. Yihong Li, Director of International Research, on the oral health status of Cubans and NYU Dentistry’s first-ever dental videoconference broadcast to Saudi Arabia. These initiatives and others that you will read about in this issue all share the same goal: to illuminate new directions and new opportunities for optimizing dental education, research, and patient care.