Does your Dentist Care about Diabetes?

The connection between diabetes and oral health

By Drs. Karla Bloomquist and Chiarina Iregui, SoundBridge Dental Arts and Sleep Therapy


According to a recent study, 50 percent of the American population will be considered obese by the year 2030. What does this mean to our health as a nation? As you can imagine, obesity leads to a mirage of health issues. In this article we will focus on diabetes and how a lack of control over your body’s blood sugar can affect oral health, as well as how a lack of quality/quantity of sleep can increase your chances of becoming diabetic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts that by the year 2050, as many as one in three Americans will have diabetes. To add, the International Diabetes Federation predicts that diabetes will increase by 54 percent worldwide by 2030!


According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, type 2 diabetes, which is the most common form of diabetes, has a strong link to obesity. If you suffer from a lack of oxygen while you sleep, which is often caused by obstructive sleep apnea, you increase your chance of being overweight. Your body responds to this lack of breathing by going into a “fight or flight” response. This increases the stress hormone, which then encourages your body to store fat. The other physiological response to suffering from sleep apnea is the poor regulation of the hormones that make you feel hungry and the hormones that make you feel full when you eat. Consequently, there is a proverbial cycle of poor sleep, increase in weight due to more food intake, and an increase in the chance that diabetes occurs.


What does this mean to your oral health? There are a number of oral manifestations from diabetes, with gum disease being one of them—and the most common. One third of people with diabetes have severe periodontal (gum) disease, and there has been evidence to suggest that changes in the gum tissue are the first clinical signs of diabetes. These changes in the health of the gum tissue occur because the lack of sugar control in the bloodstream leads to an exaggerated response by the body to the bacteria in the mouth. Dentists and dental hygienists see this first sign as gingivitis or bleeding during regular dental cleanings.


In addition to this inflammation of the gum tissue, diabetes can present itself in the oral cavity in a variety of other ways. Constant bad breath, dry mouth, oral yeast infections, burning mouth syndrome, tooth decay and geographic tongue can all present as a consequence of diabetes. Yet another link is people with diabetes are twice as likely to have depression. Although not a direct systemic correlation, depression is key in how well people manage their disease and care for their oral health in general.


Dental visits are key in keeping up with not only your oral health but legitimately getting ahead of your systemic health. Dentists can screen for sleep disordered breathing, evaluate the health of your gum tissue and teeth, address any issues with oral tissue abnormalities, and even notice if your tissues are looking dry. By putting together the big picture, your dentist may know you are developing poor glucose control before you do, in addition, making sure that you are getting good quality and quantity of sleep, as we know they are all factors tied into one another.

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