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Diabetes

07 May 2018

Suffering from diabetes? Take extra care of your teeth

If you are diabetic you might be at increased risk for gum disease. Here's why you shouldn't postpone that trip to the dentist.

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Already thinking of postponing your annual dental appointment? Don't – especially not if you are diabetic.

Many adults with diabetes don't see the dentist often enough, even though they're at increased risk for gum disease, researchers say.

In a new study, investigators analysed data from just over 2.5 million American adults who took part in an annual federal government health survey.

The survey results showed that people with diabetes or prediabetes were least likely to visit the dentist. The study included about 248 000 diabetics, 30 500 people with prediabetes and over 2.2 million without diabetes.

Study author Huabin Luo, of East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, was concerned by the results. "Those who need dental care the most seem to be the least likely to have it," said Luo, an assistant professor of public health.

Why should diabetics go to the dentist more often?

People with diabetes are at increased risk for gum disease, which can hamper blood-sugar control and speed the progression of diabetes, the study authors explained.

Between 2004 and 2014, annual dental visits fell from 66% to 61% among people with diabetes; from 66% to just under 65% among those with prediabetes; and from nearly 72% to 66.5% for people without diabetes, the study found.

With about 6% of South Africans suffering from diabetes, it's just as important in this country that diabetics visit the dentist regularly. 

The study's senior author, Bei Wu, says, "For people living with diabetes, regular dental check-ups – paired with proactive dental and diabetes self-care – are important for maintaining good oral health." Wu is director of Global Health and Aging Research at New York University's Rory Meyers College of Nursing in New York City.

Avoid diabetic complications

"Regular dental visits provide opportunities for prevention, early detection, and treatment of periodontal [gum] disease, which can potentially help with blood-glucose control and prevent complications from diabetes," Wu explained in an NYU news release.

Health care workers should encourage people with diabetes to visit a dentist at least once a year, she suggested. "Increasing access to dental services is vital to achieving this goal," she added.

The report was published online in the Journal of the American Dental Association.

Take care of your teeth

In a previous Health24 article, Cape Town-based dentist Dr Mark Sher emphasised the importance of dental care for diabetics because of the added risk of gum disease, mouth sores, and other issues.

Here are ways to take care of your oral hygiene of you are diabetic:

  • Schedule your dental appointments in accordance with your meal and insulin times to avoid hyper- or hypoglycaemia.
  • If you are diabetic, you will need a more rigorous approach to dental care. Go for teeth cleanings every three months and dental checkups every six months.
  • Brush and floss gently after each meal.
  • Mention bleeding gums to your dentist, as this might be a sign of gum infection.
  • Keep note of any changes, pain, sensitivity or possible mouth sores and mention these to your dentist.

Image credit: iStock

 

Ask the Expert

Diabetes expert

Dr. May currently works as a fulltime endocrinologist and has been in private practice since 2004. He has a variety of interests, predominantly obesity and diabetes, but also sees patients with osteoporosis, thyroid disorders, men's health disorders, pituitary and adrenal disorders, polycystic ovaries, and disorders of growth. He is a leading member of several obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

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