Diabetics need to take extra care of their teeth
Facts for those newly diagnosed with diabetes

The relationship between diabetes, oral and general health is an important focus for this Brisbane dentist

Studies have shown that the prevalence of diabetes in Australia is increasing, with one study finding a doubling since 1981. About 4% of Australians are diagnosed with diabetes at some time in their lives (National Health Survey 2007-2008).

The Australian Diabetes, Obesity, and Lifestyle Study concluded that “Australia has a rapidly rising prevalence of diabetes. The prevalence of abnormal glucose tolerance in Australia is one of the highest yet reported from a developed nation”.

This is a huge problem for our health system as the complications of diabetes are fast becoming a dangerous burden on our hospital services. It might be hard to believe but prevention of these complications includes adequate care of the teeth and gums.

At Bite Dental Brisbane, we treat the whole person—not just their teeth. We understand the important connections between oral health and chronic disease. That’s why, when you visit this Brisbane dentist, we take the time during our preventive visits to comprehensively review your general medical history and address your oral health as the integral part of your overall health that it is.

So what is Diabetes and why do we find it concerning?

Diabetes is a chronic condition. This means that it lasts for a long time, often for someone's whole life.

For our bodies to work properly we need to convert glucose (sugar) from food into energy. A hormone called insulin is essential for the absorption of glucose into cells. In people with diabetes, insulin is no longer produced or not produced in sufficient amounts by the body.

So when people with diabetes eat glucose, which is in foods such as breads, cereals, fruit and starchy vegetables, it can’t be converted into energy and absorbed. Instead, the glucose stays in the blood. This is why blood glucose levels are higher in people with diabetes—this is called hyperglycaemia.

Very simply, studies show ongoing hyperglycaemia both reduces the function of immune cells and increases inflammation. This means that people with diabetes have an immune response that doesn’t work properly and it is slow to react—leaving them more at risk to infections that their body doesn’t fight very well.

It is this process that causes the symptoms and complications of diabetes, which can be quite serious. Some of these include:

  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Vision and eye problems
  • Painful sores in the feet and legs
  • Skin and mouth infections

In more recent studies, gum disease is now considered the sixth major complication of diabetes, something which Bite Dental finds worrisome.

What is Periodontal (Gum) Disease?

It’s the leading cause of tooth loss in adults and involves a deep bacterial infection of the gum that dissolves the bone around the teeth.

Over time, this erodes the grip or hold the gums have on teeth and without receiving treatment from a dentist, patients can literally become long in the tooth with their teeth becoming wiggly and falling out.

Periodontitis (or infection around the teeth) has also been called Pyorrhoea (pronounced pie-re-ah), Periodontal Disease, or Gum Disease.

So where does gum disease fit in?

This is a true chicken-and-egg question. More and more, evidence shows that people with periodontal disease are more likely to be diabetics than people with healthy gums. But researchers still aren’t sure which comes first - does having diseased gums increase the chance of diabetes, or does having diabetes increase the risk of gum disease?

What we know so far indicates that it may be a feedback loop that works both ways!

In a long-term study conducted at Columbia University in the United States found that individuals who had gum disease were more than twice as likely to develop diabetes as those who did not—even after adjusting for age, smoking, diet, and so on. An interesting twist, however, was that those subjects whose gum disease progressed to the point where they lost all of their teeth appeared to be at a lower risk for diabetes!

While no Brisbane dentist would recommend losing one’s teeth in an attempt to prevent diabetes, it appears that eliminating the toothy source of infection improved long-term risk.

Holistically, in a diabetic patient, the presence of any infection, including gum disease, makes it difficult to control blood glucose levels—thus making control of diabetes more difficult! Therefore, it seems that good oral hygiene and dental care to prevent infections and gum disease will also help with controlling diabetes. Yet another reason to visit your Brisbane dentist regularly!

What this means for you…

In practical terms, it really doesn’t matter whether the chicken came first, or the egg. If you have gum disease, you need to follow a treatment plan that will correct this. If you are a diabetic, you need to take very good care of your health. Good control of your blood sugar will make preventing and correcting gum disease and other complications that much easier.

At Bite Dental, we always schedule time to do a full gum measurement and check at every exam appointment— whether you’re diabetic or not. So you can rest assured that your teeth and gums are in the best hands when you visit this Brisbane dentist.