Although preventive dental care does indeed reduce rates of tooth decay and loss, most people may require only one visit per year to the dentist, according to new research published Monday in the Journal of Dental Research.

Funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, investigators from the United States and United Kingdom analyzed dental records of more than 9,200 patients, and found little difference in tooth loss between those who visited the dentist twice per year versus those who visited only once. Researchers recommend the development of biomarkers identifying patients more apt to experience adverse dental outcomes in order to offer a more personalized approach, saving resources from largely unnecessary clinical visits.

The researchers analyzed patients without a serious periodontitis diagnosis by separating them into groups at low risk and high risk for tooth loss, and then questioning whether the frequency of dental visits — primarily once or twice yearly — was associated with tooth loss. Risk factors used to categorize the patients into risk groups included diabetes, cigarette smoking, and a specific genetic marker, all previously associated with development of periodontitis.

The investigators looked at records dating back 16 years into each patient's history, excluding from the data tooth loss due to the extraction of wisdom teeth.

"The approach adopted here, based on population stratification with pre-defined risk factors to guide prevention of a highly prevalent chronic disease, may provide a proof-of-principle for approaches aimed at better outcomes and a more cost-effective use of health care resources," the study authors write.

Within the group of people with lower risk of developing adverse dental outcomes, the difference in tooth loss was not much different between those who went once yearly versus twice, the investigators found. "A personalized medicine approach combining gene biomarkers with conventional risk factors to stratify populations may be useful in resource allocation for preventive dentistry," they write.

Around the world, 500 million dental visits per year cost health systems more than $100 billion alone, with routine preventive care visits accounting for 76 percent of all dental health services.

Source: Giannobile, W.V., Braun, T.M., Caplis, A.K., Doucette-Stamm, L., Duff, G.W., Korman, K.S. Patient Stratification For Preventive Care In Dentistry. Journal of Dental Research. 2013.