Another Downside to Diabetes: Tooth Loss
By Steven Reinberg
The risk of vision problems and amputations for people with diabetes is well-known. Now, research shows diabetics lose twice as many teeth on average as those without the disease.
Also, blacks with diabetes have a greater risk of tooth loss as they age, compared with white or Mexican Americans, the study found.
“We have more evidence that [poor] oral health is related to diabetes,” said lead researcher Bei Wu, a professor of nursing and global health at Duke University in Durham, N.C.
Gum disease is a common complication of diabetes. About half of U.S. adults have gum disease, and its prevalence is even higher among diabetics, Wu said.
“The ultimate consequence of gum disease is tooth loss,” she added.
Why diabetes is linked to tooth loss hasn’t been clear, Wu said. What is clear is that the relationship is bidirectional, the study authors explained. On the one hand, diabetes raises the odds for poor dental health, while deteriorating teeth and gums are linked to worse overall health in people with diabetes.
The American Diabetes Association recommends that doctors refer their diabetic patients to a dentist, Wu said. “In reality, very few doctors are doing that,” she added.
Diabetic patients are normally referred to eye doctors, since diabetes is a major cause of vision loss. Foot exams are also recommended, because amputation resulting from poor circulation and nerve damage is a serious complication of diabetes.
“Foot care and eye care are on the top of their agenda, but dental care is not,” Wu said. “Diabetics need to have regular dental care.”
The report was published in the December issue of the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.
Dr. Edmond Hewlett, a spokesman for the American Dental Association, welcomed the findings. “This study sheds light on two important and timely health issues: the connection between dental health and overall health; and health disparities — the degree to which diseases can affect some racial/ethnic groups more severely than others.”