Diabetes and the Dentist, How are they Connected?

Last month I discussed oral cancer and the vital roll a visit to the dentist can play in the early detection and treatment of many forms of oral cancer.  This month I would like to address another growing health concern:  Diabetes!  Approximately eight percent of the U.S. population is thought to have Diabetes.  Prevalence increases with age.  The classic signs and symptoms of diabetes are excessive urination, excessive thirst, and excessive sense of hunger, recent onset of blurred vision or recent weight loss.

As dentists, the signs and symptoms we look for are dry mouth, a burning of the mouth or tongue, a fungal infection called thrush that causes painful white patches in your mouth, or a distinct breath odor.  Diabetics who are not diagnosed are at a greater risk for infections following dental procedures such as extractions and root canals.

The complication that most directly involves us in dentistry is the increased prevalence of periodontal disease in patients with diabetes.  Diabetics tend to get periodontal disease at a rate three to four times higher than people without diabetes.  Although the exact mechanisms of action are not fully understood, poor metabolic control, as well as extended duration of the hyperglycemic state, are risk factors for periodontitis and altered host function.   Most likely, a combination or many factors ultimately leads to the increased prevalence and severity of periodontitis in patient with diabetes.

The bottom line is that a dental visit is often the first time a patient’s diabetes may be suspected.  We have seen the signs and have sent many patients to their physician to be tested for diabetes.  The message for you is to visit the dentist regularly.  Pay attention to changes in your mouth and body.  Ask questions and keep your dentist and hygienist informed about health changes.  Together we can monitor your oral and overall health.  Studies are coming out regularly showing that a healthy mouth means a healthier body, and a mouth that is not healthy may be an indication of greater problems in your body.

If you do have diabetes, you should put extra effort into your oral care.   A healthy body starts with a healthy mouth.  Reduced inflammation in your mouth correlates to reduced inflammation in the rest of your body.  Keeping your mouth free of plaque will reduce your chances of developing periodontal disease or getting thrush.  If you have a dry mouth, keep hydrated as much as possible talk to us about rinses and medications that may help.  Dry mouth can lead to increase tooth decay, so be sure to share your symptoms with us during your regular check-ups.

If you have any questions about diabetes or if you have symptoms you are worried about, please contact us or your physician.  We are all here to help!

Thanks for reading!

Dr. Bruce