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Dentists warn of connection between diabetes and oral health

Today, more than 9 million Canadians live with diabetes or pre-diabetes, a condition that, if left unchecked, puts them at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

More than 20 people are diagnosed with the disease every hour of every day.

Not only is diabetes a personal crisis for people with the disease, but it currently costs the health care system and economy $11.7 billion.

A number of factors have contributed to the rising number of people with type 2 diabetes, including an aging population, rising obesity rates and increasingly sedentary lifestyles.

There are a number of complications associated with diabetes, but many people are not aware that research shows diabetes and oral health are connected.

Ontario Dental Association (ODA) officials says this means those with diabetes are at greater risk for developing oral health problems such as gum disease and infections.

On the other hand, they say, having gum disease can intensify the complications associated with diabetes by increasing blood sugar levels which, if they remain high over a period of time, can lead to complications as premature degeneration of your eyes, kidneys, nerves and blood vessels.

How a dentist can help

It’s important to remember dentists are oral health experts with the training and experience necessary to properly assess oral health.

Through oral examinations, dentists use their training and expertise to look for certain oral health conditions that could signal a diabetes test.

The most common oral health problems found in people with diabetes include:

- gum disease (a type of bacterial infection caused by the build-up of plaque that affects both the gums and the bones supporting teeth in two forms: gingivitis and periodontitis);

- tooth decay;

- dry mouth, a condition known clinically as xerostomia;

- fungal infections;

- lesions in the mouth;

- taste impairment; and

- infection and delayed healing.

If a dentist finds signs a patient is at risk for diabetes, or that existing diabetes is not well-controlled, the patient will be referred to their family doctor for follow-up treatment or testing.

The good news is that treating either gum disease or diabetes can lead to improvements in the other. For an introduction to diabetes and oral health, ask an ODA-member dentist for the brochure Your dentist sees more than just your teeth.

In addition, at a future visit, tell the dentist:

- if diagnosed with diabetes if the diabetes is under control;

- if taking insulin and when the last usual dose was administered;

- if there has been any other change in medical history; and

- the names of all the herbal medicines, prescription and over-the-counter drugs being taken.

For more information visit the Canadian Diabetes Association at diabetes.ca, or the ODA at oda.on.ca.

Vol 45 Issue 45

November 9, 2012

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