Birmingham researcher to study diabetes in dentistry

dental work in progress

Zehra YonelZehra Yonel, a Clinical Lecturer in Restorative Dentistry at our founder-member the University of Birmingham, has been awarded a three-year fellowship to research type 2 diabetes (T2D) in dentistry.

The NIHR-Diabetes UK Doctoral Fellowship was awarded to Zehra by the Department of Health and Social Care, and it’s due to begin in February 2020. The jointly-funded Partnership Fellowships provide researchers with the opportunity to be part of an active and supportive research community; maintaining and building a relationship with both the NIHR and charity partner. Zehra spoke to our colleagues in the College of Medical and Dental Sciences about her new work:

What will your research be focused on?

Diabetes is a growing global concern and has serious health impacts for those with the condition, as well as significant cost implications for healthcare services like the NHS. I’ll be looking at using the dental setting and dental staff to help identify people at high risk of T2D and those who already unknowingly have the condition.

There is evidence that T2D is often picked up very late when patients are already showing signs of problems associated with the condition. However, evidence also shows that if identified early, some of the effects can be reversed through instigation of interventions such as the Diabetes Prevention Programme.

Where does a dentist come into this?

As dentists we see about 60% of the population regularly. Lots of these people have not had contact with other healthcare professionals in the same 12 month period, and so many patients visiting their dentist may not have had a health check or risk assessment for diabetes elsewhere. Furthermore, there’s a now well-established, very strong link between T2D and gum disease, known as periodontitis. As dentists we need to screen all patients for this gum condition and thus we have information readily available to us which may indicate that certain patients are at risk of T2D.

What do you hope to achieve with this funding?

As part of my research I want to do three things:

      • Look at existing databases to try and determine whether information routinely collected in dental settings (like tooth loss / gum disease) can be used to accurately predict who may have high risk for T2D.
      • Hold interviews with patients, dental teams and other stakeholders involved to establish their views relating to the possibility of dental teams risk assessing for T2D
      • Look at the processes that would be involved in to setting up such a service, right from patients entering the practice wanting a risk-assessment to how we manage their care appropriately once they have the risk-assessment results.

Wishing Zehra the best of luck with her fellowship!