Why your dentist may be able to tell if you have diabetes

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Screening for diabetes at dental clinics may help reduce the numbers of sufferers, say experts.

Severe gum disease – or periodontitis – has long been thought of as an early sign of type 2 diabetes and now experts are suggesting that dentists are perfectly placed to screen patients who may be unaware they have the disease.

They base their findings on a study of 313 predominantly middle-aged people attending a university dental clinic – 109 had no gum disease, 126 had mild to moderate gum disease and in 78 it was severe, affecting the supporting structures of the teeth.

Weight was significantly higher in those with severe gum disease – they had an average BMI of 27 or higher.

But other risk factors for diabetes, including high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels, were similar among all three groups.

People with mild to moderate gum disease also had more relatives with diabetes than those with no or severe gum disease.

People with suspected diabetes (23% and 14%, respectively) and pre-diabetes (47% and 46%, respectively) were significantly over represented among those with severe and mild to moderate gum disease.

Among those with no gum disease, 37% had pre-diabetes, while 10% had suspected diabetes – figures that are relatively high, but which might be explained by the lower threshold of 6.5% rather than 7%, which is commonly used for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.

Previously undiagnosed cases of diabetes were found in all three groups: 8.5% of those with no gum disease; just under 10% of those with mild to moderate gum disease; and nearly one in five (18%) of those with the severe form.

Researchers suggest that it would be feasible to screen for undiagnosed diabetes in dental practices, focusing on people with the most severe form of gum disease.

Picking up diabetes and pre-diabetes early is essential if its associated complications are to be avoided.

Early diagnosis and treatment of diabetes might also help to stave off the risk of tooth loss that is associated with longstanding and untreated severe gum disease, they add.

Gum disease is indicated by red, swollen and/or bleeding gums and raises the risk of cardiovascular diseases, strokes, respiratory disease as well as diabetes.

Dental hygienists have the specialist training required to treat sore and swollen gums and advise on good oral hygiene practice and may suggest changes to your diet and any detrimental lifestyle habits that may impact on your dental health, as well as will be able to give your teeth and mouth the deep cleaning that is required.

The research is published in the online journal BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care.
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