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Diabetes and The Effect on Teeth: Periodontal Disease

by  David Mendosa
Monday, November 13, 2006
When Ed and I, along with 18 other people, founded an urban commune near Washington, D.C., in 1973, we pooled all of our income. Both Ed and I had well-paying jobs, and all but one of the other adults in our commune were employed, so money wasn’t a big issue.

Ed had serious gum disease, but he never got around to getting treatment. Good thing that he didn’t have diabetes too.

I had periodontal surgery for my gum disease, technically known as periodontal disease. Fortunately, I didn’t have diabetes then, but a doctor diagnosed it two decades later.

If I hadn’t kept my gum disease in check, I know that it would have been much harder for me to keep my diabetes under control. There’s new evidence for the connection between the two diseases in a tantalizing preliminary study in the November issue of Journal of Periodontology. The abstract of the study is online, and the Public Affairs Department of the American Academy of Periodontology kindly sent me the full-text of the study, which can also be accessed for $20 online.

The study found that when people with type 2 diabetes get periodontal therapy, their level of lipid peroxide drops. That’s good, because lipid peroxide is is a measure of oxidative stress.

“Recently, oxidative stress has emerged as an important promoting factor for atherosclerosis in diabetes mellitus,” the study says. That’s hardening and narrowing of the arteries, and can lead to something even more deadly than diabetes – heart attacks and strokes.

Researchers from Kyushu Dental College in Kitakyushu, Japan, compared the effects of periodontal therapy on an admittedly small group of people – just five who have type 2 diabetes and six who don’t. The authors were the first to say that a larger double-blind study needs to be done now. But this preliminary report is certainly enough for me to redouble my efforts to control my gum disease.

Every five months a dental hygienist cleans my teeth. During my two most recent visits I was delighted to hear her says that the deepest pockets have actually shrunk. This was the first time ever than I remember my gums getting better because of something that I, rather than a dental professional, had done.

Why? It could be because my blood glucose levels are getting better. Or it could be because I floss more regularly.

One cynical writer recently wrote that even dentists don’t floss after every meal. I’m sure that not all do, but I am willing to bet that most of them floss every time they eat. I got into that habit, because I just can’t stand the feel (and appearance) of having pieces of lettuce or meat between my teeth, and not because I was aware at the time of the overall benefits to my health.

I prefer Glide Deep Clean, which my wife recently discovered at Costco. It’s thicker.

“Is there anything else that I can do?” I asked my dental hygienist during my last visit. She recommended that I use a Sonicare electronic toothbrush instead of my regular electronic toothbrush. I am now using the Sonicare to make it easier for me to clean plaque below the gumline. I especially love to use it because my teeth feel cleaner now than ever before, except right after my dental hygienist cleans them.

Regularly readers of my blog will certainly have noticed that I rarely write about the complications of diabetes. There are enough gloom and doom people out there to tell us about those things. I prefer to focus on the positive – what we can do to control our diabetes.

That’s why I’m writing about gum or periodontal disease now. When we control it, we can help to control our diabetes at the same time.

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