We get it: A hygiene visit and exam are easy to skip when you’re doing okay. But even if you’re not so okay, if you’re embarrassed about the condition in your mouth, you’ll probably take a pass, too. Maybe you’ve been struggling over the bathroom sink with flossing and brushing techniques that feel downright clumsy. Frustrated, you give up.
Whether you feel fine, fear the worst, or struggle to be effective, it can be hard to see the value in spending time and money on your teeth.
But ignoring your oral health can have systematic health repercussions. Periodontal disease, for instance, has a unique relationship with a whole host of other chronic inflammatory diseases. Now a recent study, published in BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care, highlights yet another health consequence of periodontal disease – type 2 diabetes – and how your dentist and hygienist may be the defensive front line to your overall health.
Gum disease (periodontitis) might be an early complication of diabetes and may be a useful risk indicator for diabetes screening. Therefore, a dental office could be a good location for screening for (pre)diabetes in patients with periodontitis….
For the study, 313 participants were evaluated in a university dental clinic where they were segregated into groups according to periodontal disease status. Three groups were formed: participants with no periodontal disease (198), those with mild-moderate levels of gum disease (126), and those with advanced levels periodontitis (78).
Researchers evaluated each group for common risk factors associated with diabetes including body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, cholesterol readings, and A1c blood levels. Those with periodontitis were found to have a higher body mass index (27) than those without the condition.
The authors concluded that of all the participants, those with the most advanced gum disease also had the highest blood-tested HbA1c levels at 45 mmol/mol. Those with mild-moderate levels of gum disease averaged 43 mmol/mol. Those with healthy gums averaged 39 mmol/mol.
But it turns out that the actual level, or stage, of gum disease present in the mouth may not matter as much as its mere presence.
Researchers found a high percentage of people with suspected diabetes and prediabetes among participants with mild-to-moderate as well as severe gum disease.
Of those with severe gum disease
- 23% were suspected to have diabetes.
- 47% had prediabetes.
- 18% had not been diagnosed with diabetes before the study.
Of those with mild-moderate gum disease
- 14% were suspected to have diabetes.
- 46% had prediabetes.
- 10% had not been diagnosed with diabetes.
If you’re thinking just because you’ve never had an issue with gum disease, you’re safe, know this: Of those participants with no gum disease, 8.5% had not been diagnosed with diabetes until the study.
To date, CDC estimates that some 29 million Americans have diabetes, and of them, only 29.1 have been diagnosed. That means there are 8.1 million who have it but don’t know. Rather than ignoring the possibility that one of those undiagnosed individuals could be you, we suggest you reconsider your routine dental cleaning and exam appointment.
For what this study highlights brilliantly is the wholeness of our bodies. Though we may have parceled our general health care out to this specialist or that, we would do well to remember we are made up of interrelated and interdependent parts striving to maintain health in simultaneous perfection.
All dentists are specialists of the mouth. But biological and holistic dentists are trained to connect what they see in the mouth with the person they see before them.
But, as we said, we get that you may struggle to see the value in making and keeping regular dental visits. We encourage you to consider that while gum disease is related to other chronic inflammatory conditions such as heart disease, stroke, certain cancers and diabetes, the presence of gum disease appears to be an indication you may already have diabetes. You just might not know it yet.