PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Getting a dental check-up can do more than keep your teeth and mouth healthy. A new study published in the Journal of Dental Research says a dentist might be able to find evidence of a common disease that can be missed by a doctor.

Adair Sheffer’s recent trip to the dentist revealed more than swollen gums. She was on her way to getting diabetes, something her doctor had missed.

“I was shocked, because like a week before, I went to my physician who did a thorough examination, and everything was fine,” said Adair. She took part in a recent study that found that, of the 500 people examined, more than one-third had either diabetes or pre-diabetes, like Sheffer.

Researchers were able to identify most cases just by looking at the number of missing teeth in a patient’s mouth and the amount of space between the gums and roots of the teeth.

“The dentist may be the first healthcare provider that sees these changes in the mouth,” said Dr. Evanthia Lalla, a dentist.

High blood sugar levels caused by diabetes interfere with the body’s ability to fight off bacterial infections, which can lead to gum disease and other dental problems.

Research has shown that diabetes often makes gum disease worse, and that gum disease can also make it harder for diabetics to control their blood sugar.

Experts say that finding the early signs could give patients like Adair more time to turn things around.

“Now I can prevent becoming a diabetic person, if I keep up my exercise and my diet,” said Adair.

Studies show that roughly 70 percent of Americans visit a dentist at least once a year, so researchers figured dental visits would be a good opportunity to check for diabetes.

For more information on dental problems associated with diabetes, click here.

Reported by Stephanie Stahl, CBS3

Top Content On CBSPhilly

Watch & Listen LIVE