Gum disease and diabetes

March 29, 2010 3:18:56 PM PDT
When it comes to our mouths, it's not just teeth that need care. Our gums are also an important part of our dental health. One professor and analyst at the NYU School of Dentistry has a proposal for how dentists can help screen for another common and threatening disease.

Bob Manus has been getting treatment for advanced gum disease, which has already caused him to lose some teeth.

"I've had to have surgery in all four quadrants," he said. "It's very unpleasant."

Patients who have gum disease, also called peridontitis, could also be at risk for another disease - type 2 diabetes. And it might be a good idea to screen people for diabetes during their dental visits for gum disease, says Dr. Sheila Strauss, a psychologist at the NYU Dental School, who has analysed statistics of people with gum disease.

"Ninety-three percent of people who have gum disease, but who indicated that they had never been told by a medical provider that they had diabetes, were in fact at risk for diabetes," she said.

The American Diabetes Association recommends testing every three years for people age 45 or above or people age 25 and up who are overweight or obese and have a second risk factor, like hypertension, high cholesterol or a first-degree relative with diabetes.

Dr. Strauss says anyone falling in one of these two groups could be offered screening with a simple blood test when they are diagnosed or treated for gum disease.

"I would like to see people understand that, in fact, if they have gum disease, that they are truly at risk for diabetes and should be tested," Dr. Strauss said.

Bob thinks it's a good idea.

"I've been reading that there's definitely a link," he said. "I had a checkup about four months ago with my regular doctor, and he told me I was sort of pre-diabetic and to watch my diet."

At this point, no dentist has signed on to test patients. It remains to be seen if this idea takes hold or if dental groups sign on to support it. But a link between gum disease and diabetes definitely exists, but just how they are related is not yet clear.

In the meantime, patients need to be their own advocate and if they have gum disease. Now, they should see if they also fit the criteria that should make them candidates for a simple diabetes screening test, which right now their own doctors can give them.