diabetesCurrently the United States is in the middle of a significant health crisis with a common name: diabetes. The Center of Disease Control estimated that in 2014 there were 22 million people with diabetes in America. We’ve become accustomed to thinking that diabetes is an old person’s disease, but these days even children are getting type 2 diabetes in record numbers largely due to our obesity epidemic. The American diet and our lifestyle are making us sick.

Many people do not know the health consequences of diabetes, but it can cause hypoglycemia, heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, circulation problems, and eventually death. It also creates oral health complications that dentists see much more often these days.  

Recently associate professor of medicine and chief of endocrinology at Michigan State University Saleh Aldasouqi and Holt, Michigan dentist Susan Maples teamed up to expand education about diabetes and oral health, both to the public and to dental professionals. Research on these two conditions has revealed that gum disease and bone loss around teeth are both significantly affected by diabetes. What’s more, patients with gum disease often struggle to get their blood sugar levels under control.

Because many people with diabetes will not see a doctor but might see a dentist, the goal of Aldasouqi and Maples was to develop a screening tool that could help dentists and dental hygienists recognize patients with diabetes and those at risk of developing diabetes. This screening tool does not involve weighing a patient or calculating BMI, doing lab tests, or measuring blood pressure. It’s a 14-question survey and a finger prick to test for sugar in the patient’s hemoglobin (blood).

One of the results of this initiative was particularly shocking: about 19 percent of patients surveyed were already prediabetic.

Besides increasing awareness about diabetes in the general population, this survey will help dentists treat their patients. Diabetes can complicate surgical procedures and result in slowed healing. We’ve previously discussed how multiple strains of bacteria live in the mouth, some that are very detrimental to health. If these negative bacteria are not kept under control by brushing, flossing, and regular dental care, they can migrate to other parts of the body and cause significant health problems.

Obviously, it is enormously important to advise your dentist of any underlying health problems you may have. It’s clear that performing surgery in a mouth that has impaired healing ability due to diabetes or other conditions must be carefully done and then monitored afterwards. At your next scheduled dentist appointment, please make a point to update your dentist’s office about your health and any problems you may be experiencing. It could make a very large difference to your health and quality of life.