It is well known that diabetics are at an increased risk of vascular complications, and that control of blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure are important to prevent these complications from developing. One often overlooked risk factor in diabetics is periodontal disease, a chronic bacterial infection affecting the gums and bone that support the teeth.

Periodontal disease is known as gingivitis in its mildest form, presenting as tenderness, redness, and swelling of the gumline. If untreated with proper oral hygiene (adequate brushing and flossing), this can evolve to a chronic condition with gum recession, plaque accumulation and bone loss, called periodontitis.

The relationship between periodontal disease and Type 2 Diabetes is something of a vicious cycle. First of all, it is known that diabetics are at higher risk of developing periodontal disease, and that it is more severe than in non diabetics. The elevated blood sugars increase the susceptibility to infection – bacteria thrive on the excess sugar that is available.

On the other side of the coin, having periodontal disease is associated with an increased risk of developing diabetes, and is also associated with poor blood sugar control in patients with diabetes.

A key factor responsible for the relationship between periodontal disease and diabetes appears to be inflammation. As discussed by Dr Tenenbaum and colleagues in a recent publication by the Canadian Diabetes Association, periodontal disease produces a low grade inflammatory state, with increased levels of inflammatory chemicals in the blood stream. These inflammatory mediators are known to be associated with increased risk of vascular disease, and true to that, an increased prevalence and incidence of cardiovascular disease has been observed in patients with periodontal disease. We also know that Type 2 Diabetes and the complications that develop are partially mediated by inflammatory changes in the blood vessel wall, so this may be part of the link between the two conditions.

To minimize your risk of periodontal disease, follow these important tips from the Canadian Dental Association:

  1. Brush your teeth and tongue twice a day with toothpaste and floss once a day to remove plaque between teeth. When choosing oral health care products, check for the Canadian Dental Association (CDA) Seal of Recognition.Products bearing this Seal have been reviewed by CDA and have demonstrated specific oral health benefits.
  2. Check your gums regularly. Look for the warning signs of gingivitis and report them to your dentist right away.
  3. See your dentist for regular check ups, and schedule a professional cleaning to remove stains and built-up tartar.
  4. Eat healthy foods for your oral health as well as your overall health. Eating excess sugar is one of the primary causes of dental problems. With the proper nutrients that come from healthy eating and proper oral hygiene, you can fight cavities and gingivitis.
  5. Don’t smoke. Smoking is a major contributor to dental problems and may cause oral cancer.

Dr Sue Pedersen © 2010

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