What do these people have in common? Jackie Robinson, Anne Rice, Neil Young, Elvis Pressley, Scott Verplank, George Lucas, Nikita Kruschev, Rick James (superfreak!), Smokin Joe Frazier, and Halle Berry? Well, you can probably guess, from the title of the article that they are not dentists, but they are all diabetics! And, certainly, they all face the same issues that other diabetics face.
Two common and chronic conditions, diabetes and periodontal (gum) disease have a complex connection that goes in both directions. People with diabetes are at increased risk of getting periodontal disease. And periodontal disease in turn, may make diabetes worse. It leads to problems with the control of blood sugar levels, which can increase the risk of complications such as vision problems, nerve damage, kidney disease and cardiovascular disease.
George Taylor, a University of Michigan Dental School professor has studied this and written numerous articles about it. He has shown that people with Type 2 adult onset diabetes are three times more likely to develop periodontal disease than non-diabetics. The disease also progresses more rapidly and to more sever stages in people with diabetes, says Taylor.
He also found that people with more sever periodontal disease were six times more likely to have poor glycemic control at follow up than those who had lesser problems with their gums.
People with more sugar in their mouths provide a better environment for hostile bacteria, which can lead to gum disease. It also makes healing more difficult when the infection settles in. And further infection makes blood glucose control even more difficult, worsening the cycle!
Patients with diabetes also often also have less saliva flow, or a “dry mouth”. They are more prone to decay, ulceration on the gums, and have a lot more trouble wearing dental prosthesis like dentures and partials. Drinking lots of water and some over the counter products (like Biotene) can help.
As with all diabetic complications, an ounce of prevention is worth its weight in gold. By far the most important step that can be taken is to brush and floss regularly. The American Dental Association recommends a minimum of three minutes each time, three times a day. Three minutes of brushing is a long, long time.
Its best to schedule dental appointments about an hour and a half after eating, so as not to interfere with your normal meal patterns. Test your blood glucose before going to the dentist, and make sure you stick to your normal medications and routines.