The Connection between Diabetes and Dental Health

November is American Diabetes Month, which is a time when people should be spreading awareness about the prevalence of diabetes and strategies on how to treat and prevent it. This also makes November a good time to examine theconnection between diabetes and dental health. Many diabetics may still be unaware that they not only need to follow a specific diet to help control their condition, but they also need to follow a strict dental care regimen to keep from developing gum disease and other major issues.

Major bacteria, serious problems

Your mouth is teeming with bacteria. While this may sound like a terrifying concept, don’t worry, because not all of this bacteria is bad. Also, you can keep bacteria in check by brushing, using mouthwash, flossing regularly and visiting a dentist regularly. However, if you don’t follow these steps, then you may find yourself experiencing a serious oral health issue.

When you eat anything that contains sugar, bacteria in your mouth is given something to snack on. If you don’t brush or floss these leftover food particles away, then your mouth bacteria will continue to feast and grow on it, eventually wearing away at your tooth enamel. Over time, this can lead to tooth decay and gum disease, a serious infection of the gums.

Diabetics may have an increased risk of developing this problem, especially if they aren’t properly monitoring their blood sugar levels. According to the American Dental Association, when diabetes is not being handled properly, then increased glucose levels in saliva may help bacteria thrive and lead to gum disease.

Costly and preventable

Earlier this year, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that when diabetics received treatment for dental health issues, such as gum disease and tooth decay, they not only experienced improved oral health, but also a reduction in healthcare costs. Treating gum disease in diabetics resulted in 33 percent fewer hospitalizations each year and a more than $1,800 reduction in annual healthcare costs per patient.

“My research team and I had looked at other data sets and we knew that health care costs could be reduced, but we wanted to look at the hospitalizations and see how those could be reduced. This study provided direct insight as to how lower hospitalizations could be achieved through periodontal therapy,” said lead researcher Marjorie Jeffcoat, professor and dean emeritus of the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine.

Furthermore, gum disease is entirely preventable. Brushing, flossing and visiting the dentist regularly is all that people have to do to keep gum disease at bay. So, while treating gum disease is one way to reduce the often staggering healthcare costs associated with diabetes, avoiding developing it all together is a better way to go.

Two-way street

The American Diabetes Association adds that evidence has also suggested that not only are people with diabetes at an increased risk of gum disease, but individuals who already have the condition may also have a higher chance of developing the blood sugar disorder. That’s because serious gum disease may have the ability to affect glucose levels in the blood. Furthermore, dental health problems have also been associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

Fight back

Clearly, diabetics need to pay special attention to their dental health. Luckily, this isn’t hard to do. Individuals with diabetes should talk to their dentist about how to keep the bacteria in their mouths under control and avoid developing gum disease.

Do you have questions about the connection between diabetes and oral health? Let us know in the comments below!

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