Mar. 14, 2007 Research at the University of Maryland, Baltimore quantifies, for the first time, how schizophrenia is apparently associated with a broader hard palate and abnormalities in the teeth.
The work, a collaboration of dental and medical researchers published in the latest issue of the journal Schizophrenia Research, adds important support to an understanding of schizophrenia as not just a disease of the mind, but as a complex developmental disorder that includes a psychological component.
Recent research had pointed out a link between wide palates and the incidence of schizophrenia. This study, though, was the first to use "blind" measurements of schizophrenic and control patients to find a statistically significant link. The research also found more abnormalities in the teeth and jaws of schizophrenic patients. Gary Hack, DDS, associate professor in the University of Maryland Dental School, made casts of schizophrenic patients' mouths, then had other researchers measure those casts, along with those from "control" patients.
Hack, who worked on the research with former School of Medicine Professor Brian Kirkpatrick, MD, MSPH, says the link between schizophrenia and palate width and teeth and jaw problems may be a tool in the diagnosis and early treatment of the disease. And, pointing to a body of research showing the value of early treatment of schizophrenia, Hack adds, "The sooner you begin treating these patients who later develop psychosis, the better the long-term outcome."
Hack is eager to see how further studies might link physiological abnormalities with schizophrenia. The findings on palate and teeth abnormalities, he says, "might be a part of the puzzle."
Other studies continue to shape scientists' understanding of the complex physiological nature of schizophrenia. Kirkpatrick, now vice chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior at the Medical College of Georgia, is researching whether the high rate of diabetes in schizophrenic patients is due not to their medication, as has been suspected, but to an existing risk factor inherent in the disease.
"We need to be sensitive to the fact that these patients also have many medical problems related to this disease," says Kirkpatrick. "There are other things going on that we need to pay attention to."
Schizophrenia Research, a preeminent journal in the field, is a publication of the Schizophrenia International Research Society, whose members are among the world's top researchers of the disease. William Carpenter Jr., MD, director of the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center in Catonsville, is a member of the society's executive board. The research center, part of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, is where part of the study was conducted.
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