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Diabetes and Gum Disease

How Diabetes Affects Your Mouth and How Your Mouth Affects Your Diabetes

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Updated February 21, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Here are the facts: approximately 23.7 million Americans have diabetes. New research suggests that the number will double over the next 25 years. Another troubling fact, unfortunately, it is very easy to miss the signs and symptoms that point to diabetes. But, as my own family learned, paying attention to gum disease can help you get a diagnosis and treatment before further complications arise.

Too Close to Home

My husband was once one of the millions who did not know he had diabetes. As a "tough" guys (sorry, honey), he often avoided seeing his physician even when he was feeling ill. Since he was generally healthy, it didn't seem to matter. Then, almost out of the blue, he began to display some of the obvious symptoms of diabetes. This included blurred vision, frequent urination, unexplained weight loss, increased thirst, and frequent infections. He chalked them up to a recent change in diet. More than six months passed without seeing his doctor, until one day he became very ill and I insisted he see a physician that day. He reluctantly went to the emergency room.

We were soon shocked to learn that his blood glucose level was so high that the nurses couldn't understand why he wasn't in a diabetic coma. In retrospect, we might have known there was a problem if we had just looked at the evidence in his mouth.

A Diabetic Mouth?

The American Academy of Periodontology states that periodontal disease - also known as gum disease - could be considered the "sixth complication of diabetes." For my husband, this was perhaps one of the more obvious, yet unexplained signs that something unusual was going on with his health. He brushes and flosses religiously and visits his dentist on a regular basis, but despite his efforts, he encountered a period where it was almost as if his mouth was falling apart. His gums, which are normally very healthy, bled while he was brushing his teeth. He discussed this with his dentist, and was told that he had gingivitis. Efforts to improve his brushing and flossing habits failed to ward off the gingivitis, however more advanced periodontal disease, such as periodontitis, was not yet evident.

How Gum Disease Affects Your Oral Health

When bacteria accumulates in dental plaque that has not been effectively removed the teeth and gums, it irritates the gums and causes an infection. Gingivitis is the mildest form of gum disease and often results in little or no discomfort, so it can be overlooked and the problem can worsen. In more advanced stages of gum disease, tooth loss is almost always immanent. Someone with diabetes is more prone to infection. In fact, the World Health Organization classified diabetes as a secondary immunodeficiency diseases.

Like diabetes, millions of people are unaware of the fact that they have some form of gum disease. For a diabetic, gingivitis - the only form of gum disease that is reversible - could rapidly progress to the most serious form of gum disease, known as advanced periodontitis, before they know it. According to a study conducted by researchers from New York University, more than 90% of people with gum disease may be at risk for developing diabetes.

How Gum Disease Affects Your Diabetes

As I mentioned, diabetics are more prone to infections. With severe periodontal disease, a diabetic may develop an infection that raises his blood glucose level, and he may make have difficulty regaining control his glucose levels. Being in control of blood glucose is a diabetics first priority.

Taking Control

Like a viscous circle, gum disease and diabetes - if left untreated or uncontrolled - directly affect one another, in a way that only increases the chances for serious complications from both diseases. Taking control of your diabetes, gum disease, or both will help to cut the risk of these serious complications from occurring.

A study from 1997 involving people with both gum disease and periodontal disease found their diabetes was more in control when their periodontal disease was treated.

The Window to Your Health

In the case of my husband, the connection between diabetes and gum disease was right in front of us, but we missed it. In the near future, blood glucose testing could become part of your regular dental examination. In the meantime, be aware of the connection between oral health and your overall health and, if you have questions or concerns about diabetes and gum disease, speak to your dentist and your physician.

Sources:

"Diabetes and Infection". Dr. Bharat B. Trivedi. http://www.perio.org/consumer/mbc.diabetes.htm Accessed: January 15,2010

"Gum Disease and Diabetes. The American Association of Periodontology. http://www.perio.org/consumer/mbc.diabetes.htm Accessed: January 215, 2010

"Projecting the Future Diabetes Population Size and Related Costs for the US." Elbert S. Huang, Anirban Basu, Michael O'Grady, and James C. Capretta. Diabetes Care December 2009, vol. 32 no. 12. http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/32/12/2225.full Accessed: January 15,2010

Study Finds Over 90% of People with Gum Disease Are at Risk for Diabetes; Concludes That at Least Half Could Be Screened in Dental Offices." December 14, 2009. http://www.nyu.edu/public.affairs/releases/detail/2919 Accessed: January 15, 2010

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