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Nearly 26 million Americans have diabetes and more that one-quarter of them don’t know it, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.

Getting treatment early is crucial to avoid complications that include kidney failure, blindness and increased risk of heart disease and stroke. In order to target the undiagnosed, health care providers are working to make diabetes testing available in a variety of settings.

University at Buffalo researchers have published results on one of the first studies that focused specifically on the diabetic HbA1c blood test and whether it was feasible to perform it in dental practices.

Dentists have conducted patient blood sugar tests for some time, but very little in the way of field trial research is available, said dentist Robert J. Genco, the study’s lead author and UB distinguished professor of oral biology and microbiology and immunology.

The HbA1c blood test is considered essential for patients with diabetes and pre-diabetes because its results can reflect an individual’s blood sugar control anywhere from four weeks to three months – not just that day.

Genco said the goal of the study was to determine how practical it was to perform the HbA1c test for diabetes as part of a regular dental visit. The patients in the study were 45 years and older and unaware of their diabetic status. Of the 1,022 patients screened in a dental setting, 416 (40.7 percent) had blood sugar level of 5.7 or greater and were referred to physicians; more than one-third were diagnosed with diabetes within one year.

Genco never met either of his grandfathers, both of whom died early due to complications related to diabetes.

“Because of this,” he said in a news release, “I would like to make a contribution to the understanding and control of diabetes.”