Severe gum disease may be early sign of undetected diabetes

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Scientists from the University of Amsterdam and VU University found that severe gum disease, known as periodontitis, may be an early sign of type 2 diabetes.

Screening patients visiting their dentist for the treatment of severe gum disease, to try and stave off the complications associated with longstanding diabetes, would be feasible and worthwhile.

The research is published in BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care and was conducted by Wijnand J Teeuw et al.

In the study, the team examined 313 middle-aged people attending a university dental clinic: 109 had no gum disease; 126 had mild to moderate gum disease; and in 78 it was severe, affecting the supporting structures of the teeth.

The team found the weight was much higher in those with severe gum disease: they had an average BMI of 27 or higher.

But other risk factors for diabetes, including high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels, were similar among all three groups.

And people with mild to moderate gum disease also had more relatives with diabetes than those with no or severe gum disease.

Just under 3% of those with no gum disease had already been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes; this was also the case for 4% of those with mild to moderate gum disease, and for nearly 8% of those with the severe form.

HbA1C values, which measure the average level of blood sugar in the body over the past 2-3 months, were obtained by analyzing dried blood spots, which had been sampled from each of the study participants, using a finger pin-prick test.

An HbA1C value of 39-47 mmol/l is considered to indicate ‘pre-diabetes,’ while values above that indicate diabetes.

The analysis of the dried blood spots showed that HbA1C values were highest in those with the most severe form of gum disease.

People with suspected diabetes and pre-diabetes were much overrepresented among those with severe and mild to moderate gum disease.

Among those with no gum disease, 37% had pre-diabetes, while 10% had suspected diabetes —figures that are relatively high, but which might be explained by the lower threshold of 6.5% rather than 7%, which is commonly used for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.

These findings confirm the assumption that severe gum disease could be an early sign of undiagnosed diabetes.

They suggest that it would be feasible to screen for undiagnosed diabetes in dental practices, focusing on people with the most severe form of gum disease.

If you care about tooth health, please read studies about an important causes of tooth decay and gum disease, and how often should you get your teeth cleaned.

For more information about tooth health, please see recent studies about mouthwash that may increase your tooth damage, and results showing common tooth disease may increase the risk of dementia.

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