Could Dental Offices Eventually Play a Role in Diabetes Screenings?

A new study was published in BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care highlighting the success of targeting diabetes screenings at those with severe periodontitis, or gum disease. The discovery they made in their research could be monumental: One in five patients with severe gum disease had suspected diabetes.

For years, doctors have stressed that early identification and diagnosis of diabetes is essential in managing the condition and avoiding life-threatening complications. The difficulty with this is that many people suffering from type 2 diabetes have no idea because the symptoms can often be mild enough to go unnoticed until something drastic occurs.

Of the 29 million people in the United Stated with diabetes, the CDC says that over 8 million of them are undiagnosed. Diabetes is seventh on their list of the leading causes of death for Americans and kills over 76,000 people a year. However, many medical experts believe that the number of deaths related to diabetes is underreported and the statistics are probably even higher.

Complications from diabetes include, but are not limited to:

  • Hypoglycemia
  • Hypertension
  • Dyslipidemia
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Heart Attack and Stroke
  • Retinopathy and other eye problems
  • Kidney Disease
  • Amputations

By diagnosing the disease early, many patients receive treatment and support to make the lifestyle changes they need to live normal, healthy lives. In order to help increase the rate of early diagnosis, researchers have been studying ways to improve the methods of screening.

This study is especially groundbreaking in their effort because it found that patients who showed signs of severe gum disease, periodontitis, were actually twice as likely than those with healthy or mild forms of gum disease to test with blood sugar levels consistent with a type 2 diabetic or pre-diabetic diagnosis.

This isn’t the first time gum disease and diabetes has been linked. Dr. John Pappas, DDS, prominent Phoenix area dentist says that diabetes weakens the body’s ability to fight infection, and this includes inside the mouth.

“High blood sugar can affect the saliva and in turn create an environment for bacteria and plaque to form, wreaking havoc on the gums and teeth. It’s estimated that 1 in 3 diabetes’ sufferers also suffer from gum disease.”

To further the connection between diabetes screenings and the dental setting, a study conducted in the United States found that oral blood samples collected from normal dental procedures gave as accurate blood sugar readings as the usual finger stick methods. The success of this study and the Dutch study mentioned, have researchers considering dental practices as locations for diabetes screenings.

“Early detection of both diabetes and gum disease are imperative for whole body wellness and oral health. Finding ways we can work together to help patients maintain their health in all areas is at the forefront of all that we do”, says Pappas.

The costs of screening every patient at dental offices are too high to consider at this stage, so targeted screenings aimed at those with severe gum disease seems to be a compromise that could lend great results.

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