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Diabetes

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a problem of sugar metabolism which may be caused by periodontal disease.

An artist’s rendering of a glucose sugar molecule (right) docking with an insulin hormone molecule.

Diabetes is a disorder in which insulin (a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels) is either not produced (Type I Diabetes), or the tissues of the body become resistant to it (Type II Diabetes), such that cells are unable to efficiently remove the sugar molecules and use them for energy. Gestational diabetes is a temporary, pregnancy-induced Type II Diabetes that resolves when the baby is delivered.

All three forms of diabetes have in common the fact that the blood is thicker (more viscous), and has difficulty passing through very small blood vessels such as those found in the eyes, extremities, and gums (gingiva). Immune cells may not be able to pass through thickened blood in order to get to a site of infection, so healing may be delayed.

Among the other complications of diabetes, a patient with the disorder may suffer from poor gingival health. In patients with periodontal disease (gum disease), a link has been established between control of the periodontal disease and ability for the patient to control their blood sugar levels (glycemic control). Specifically, a patient whose periodontal disease is controlled and actively managed to prevent chronic inflammation generally will have better control over their blood sugar.

Recent work has suggested that periodontal disease may be an independent cause of Type II Diabetes. To the extent that periodontal disease is preventable, a certain percentage of diabetes cases may be as well.

How does the dentist diagnose Diabetes?

Note: ToothIQ.com contains general information. Only a dentist can properly diagnose your specific condition.

It is not within the scope of dental practice to diagnose diabetes. However, certain symptoms lead to suspicion that a patient may be diabetic, and a referral by the dentist for evaluation by a physician. These include:

  • A history of delayed healing.
  • The patient reports being thirsty all the time.
  • The patient reports having to urinate frequently.
  • The patient exhibits poor gingival health—gums that bleed easily and have a fiery red appearance, despite maintaining reasonable oral hygiene.
  • The patient’s breath commonly has a fruity odor, produced by diabetic ketoacidosis.

How is Diabetes treated?

Although diabetes itself is not treatable with dental care, its oral symptoms can be actively managed through preventive maintenance. Furthermore, a diabetic patient’s ability to control blood sugar levels (glycemic control) may be improved if their periodontal health is stable. This means the possibility of more frequent prophylaxis, periodontal maintenance, possible regular use of adjunctive oral antiseptic rinses, and any other treatment your dental professionals deem appropriate to prevent chronic inflammation of the gums.

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Author: Thomas J. Greany, D.D.S. / Editor: Ken Lambrecht

This page was last updated on March 2, 2018.

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