Diabetes is a major health issue in the United States. Affecting some 25.8 million people, or 8.3 percent of the U.S. population, the disease is a major cause of kidney failure, blindness, heart disease and stroke. The association between this malady and gum disease has been revealed in scientific research over several years. Recently, however, some new studies suggest that the danger isn’t limited to people who have developed the full-blown disease: Even those who are considered pre-diabetic—a group thought to number perhaps 60-80 million Americans, including half of those over age 65—may be at increased risk for gum disease; at the same time, uncontrolled gum disease may increase their chance of progressing to diabetes.
What’s the exact mechanism that connects diabetes and gum disease? Researchers still aren’t exactly certain, but clues point toward the fact that both have an inflammatory component. What’s more, the connection appears to be a two-way street: Diabetics with poor control of their blood glucose levels are more susceptible to both the less serious form of gum disease (gingivitis) and the more severe form (periodontitis), which can lead to tooth loss; on the other hand, people with serious gum disease are more likely to experience poor glucose control, and progress to a more advanced form of diabetes.
Pre-diabetes is a condition where an individual’s blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be considered as a marker of the disease. However, according to some recent studies, even this milder condition is associated with in increased incidence of periodontal disease.
One study found that people with clinical signs of gum disease (those whose gums tended to bleed when gently probed) were also for more likely to have problems controlling glucose levels—a distinguishing trait of diabetics. Another study also reported that having periodontal disease was strongly associated with pre-diabetic characteristics. The researchers also proposed that gum disease could disturb the metabolic process of glucose regulation, and even contribute towards an individual’s progression toward type 2 diabetes.
This research doesn’t mean that everyone with gum disease will go on to develop diabetes… but it’s more evidence of a connection between the two conditions. It also points out the need for people with gum disease—and those with diabetes or pre-diabetes—to be extra vigilant about their oral health. If you fall into one or more of these categories, what should you do?
First, do your best to maintain good oral hygiene. That means brushing twice daily with fluoride toothpaste and flossing daily. Reduce or eliminate sugary and acidic foods and beverages, and make sure to see your dentist (and your periodontist) as often as recommended for professional exams and cleanings. If you’re being treated for gum disease, two visits a year may not be enough.
Your doctor may order blood tests to find out if you have diabetes or pre-diabetes. If so, you will need to maintain good control of your blood sugar levels. Be sure to follow your doctor’s advice—and let your dentist and periodontist know as well: A diagnosis of diabetes may influence how gum disease is treated.
Both diabetes and gum disease are potentially serious problems—but by taking a team approach, with careful attention to maintaining oral and general health, these diseases can be successfully managed. To learn more call one of our :DP AtYourService Customer Care Representatives at 1-800-238-5163.