By: Dr. Muhammad Saad Shaikh
Diabetes is a serious health problem that, if not well controlled, may have many harmful health effects.
In type 2 diabetes – by far the most common form – sugar (glucose) levels in the bloodstream are higher than usual. This might be because the body is not making enough of the hormone insulin, which is required to help cells for sugar uptake from the blood to use for energy or energy storage, or because the body is not responding well to its insulin as it should, or for both the reasons. This type of diabetes typically starts in middle age and is often related to being overweight and having a sedentary lifestyle, however it is becoming very common in younger people, even in children. The diabetes problem affects all populations and is becoming a “global epidemic” whose complications include sufferers being more likely to develop conditions such as heart and kidney disease, which in turn leads to a lower life expectancy.
Gum disease is one of the most common diseases seen in humans. In its most severe form, termed periodontitis, the gum tissue and bone supporting the teeth are destroyed over time, resulting in tooth loss. Periodontitis affects around 50% of all adults and as many as 85% of people over 65-years of age. Though gum disease and diabetes may seem like very different diseases, dental professionals have known for a long time that people with diabetes are more likely to get gum disease. Also, their gum disease can be worse and harder to manage, compared with people having no diabetes. However, gum treatment is more likely to be successful, if a person’s blood sugar levels are under good control. But that’s not the end of the story, scientists are now finding that gum disease can also have an effect on diabetes, making blood sugar control more challenging. Therefore, it is obvious that keeping the gums healthy (by maintaining adequate oral hygiene) is an important part of looking after the overall health of a person with diabetes.
How gum disease can affect diabetes?
Scientists looked closely at all the latest research into gum disease and diabetes to reach an agreement on, and to discover a new understanding of how these two disorders may affect each another. They found that:
- In diabetics, those who have severe gum disease have higher blood sugar levels (measured by a test called HbA1c), as compared to those with healthier gums.
- Even in non-diabetics, body’s control of blood sugar levels is not as good as it must be, in the presence of severe gum disease.
- The worse the gum disease, the more likely a person is prone to suffer damage to other organs in their body due to their diabetes – for example, heart or kidney disease.
- Having severe gum disease may actually increase your chance of getting type 2 diabetes.
Why does gum disease affect diabetes?
It is not yet absolutely understood why gum disease should have an effect on diabetes, but researchers suggest that some of the germs that infect and cause gum disease may escape into the bloodstream. This prompts a reaction from our body’s defence system, which might result in release of powerful molecules having detrimental effects on other body parts, leading to worsened blood sugar control.
Can gum treatment help diabetes control?
The good news is that treatment for gum disease, such as the professional cleaning and regular care given by your dentist or hygienist, might lead to a decrease in blood sugar levels in some people with diabetes. The improvement is roughly the same as you may have if you added a second drug to your routine diabetes medication. This means that, if you have diabetes, improving your gum health can really help you control your diabetes and can also help lower your risk of diabetes complications. If you don’t have diabetes but believe you have a chance of getting it (may be because it’s in your family), having any gum disease treated is one of the things that may help you to stay healthy, alongside losing weight and taking exercise, as advised by your doctor.
The latest research on gum disease and diabetes shows the importance of keeping your gums as healthy as possible by careful cleaning at home and having regular dental check-ups. That way, any gum disease can be detected early and treated. Having healthy gums is an important step towards better overall health.