Mouth, body connection: diabetes

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Tiffany A. Grant
  • 22nd Dental Flight Preventive Dentistry
There are 25.8 million adults and children living with diabetes in the U.S.

Diabetes is a disease with high glucose levels and an altered ability to use or produce insulin. The symptoms may include blurred vision, unusual thirst, weight loss, hunger, slow healing and frequent infections.

Diabetic patients are prone to repeated infections because the high level of blood sugar impairs their bodies' immune response and ability to fight infections. These infections may occur anywhere in the body and can include periodontitis.

Periodontal disease, or periodontitis, is a bacterial infection that many patients don't associate with their diabetic condition. This chronic bacterial infection affects the supporting structures of the teeth, such as the ligament, gums and bone. Bacteria left under the gums produce toxins that cause irritation to the gums and initiate an immune response. The result is the body tries to fight the infection. This immune response to the bacterial attack causes bone and gum destruction. Eventually tooth mobility occurs, and removal of the affected teeth may be the only treatment

Why is this knowledge important to a diabetic patient?

Blood vessels provide nutrients and removal of waste products from the body. In diabetic patients, the vessel walls become thickened and the permeability is reduced. This results in a reduced ability for these exchanges to occur. As a result, harmful waste is left in the gingival tissues, and a weakened resistance of the gum tissue causes infection and disease. Periodontitis can increase glucose levels and can aid in amplified periods of times that the body functions with a high level of blood sugar. This uncontrolled state of diabetes may put diabetics at risk for other complications.

The impaired immune response in diabetic patients with high glucose levels can also magnify the progression of periodontal disease. These conditions work in such a way that they may be additive to each other. Therefore, periodontal disease is now considered a very serious complication of diabetes, and the management of diabetes and periodontitis is directly connected.

It is imperative that a diabetic makes the connection between their mouth and body. Diabetics who have periodontal disease should be treated to eliminate the periodontal infection and must be careful to control their blood sugar.

Prevention and treatment of periodontal disease may include periodic dental examinations from a dentist or periodontist and a regimen of prescribed cleanings from a dental hygienist.

Also, regular dental care for an at-risk or pre-diabetic person can help reduce the chances of developing diabetes. For those establishing a plan to prevent or manage their diabetes, a diabetic needs to remember oral health too.