Dental Care: A Good Way to Cut Health Risks for Diabetics

Looking after your teeth and gums is important in many ways. It prevents tooth decay, which can be painful, helps keep bad breath at bay and prevents tooth loss, which could mean you have to wear uncomfortable and expensive dentures. However, oral health has many more implications than simply whether your breath is sweet: it has been shown to be implicated in heart disease, and is a vital factor in the care of diabetes.

Diabetes involves the patient in a regime of self-care and monitoring to keep blood sugar levels controlled and lowers the risk of the serious complications that can accompany this disease. While diabetics who cannot control their blood sugar run increased risks of heart disease, kidney failure, nerve damage, gangrene, and blindness, a lesser-known fact is that their oral health can be compromised. The circulation and the immune system are affected by diabetes, and this can lead to many problems with the teeth and gums. A new study now shows that taking good care of your mouth can actually improve your diabetes, reducing hospitalizations and other expensive health care.

Around one-third of diabetics have serious periodontal disease – gum disease that actually leads to bone loss around the roots of the teeth and may result in the loss of teeth. This happens when plaque and bacteria build up around the base of the teeth and this combination then undergoes a chemical change. The result is tartar, a bone-hard substance which ordinary brushing cannot remove. Germs live in the tartar and attack the gums, which detach from the base of the teeth, leaving the tooth canal and the bone beneath open to infection and disease.

Marjorie Jeffcoat DMD of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and her team compared results over three years from two groups of diabetics suffering from periodontal disease. One group had had full dental care with follow up care, while the second group had incomplete care and no follow-ups.

In the first group hospital stays were reduced by 33% and doctor’s visits by 13%, reducing their overall medical bills by a quarter and saving them an average $1,844 a year compared to the patients in the second group, who had not had proper dental care. Professor Jeffcoat has announced that her team will also look into how dental care can reduce hospital stays associated with other medical problems such as heart disease and obstetric problems.

Oral care appears to be vital to the general health as well as just your mouth comfort. Your gums should be firm and pain-free. If they are soft, swollen, and red or bleed easily when you brush your teeth, you may have a gum problem that should be examined by a dentist. Regular dental appointments are vital to keep teeth healthy, and your dentist may give you a regular scrape and polish to remove tartar and plaque, to help you avoid gum disease.

Brush at least twice a day, preferably with an electric toothbrush, and clean between the teeth with floss, interdental brushes, or sticks. Keeping your blood sugar levels well controlled will also help avoid disease.

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