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A dentist can help detect diabetes

During National Diabetes Month, dentists Debra M. Ferraiolo and Analia Veitz-Keenan, from the NYU College of Dentistry, explain signs and symptoms of diabetes that can be identified during a dental checkup.
22 Nov 2016 – 05:33 PM EST
Problems with the gums can add to other problems, such as the side effects of medications used to treat diabetes. Crédito: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

It had been years since Jose had visited a dentist when he appeared for an emergency visit.

Jose had been complaining of bad breath and said that all of his teeth felt loose. In our conversation, I discovered he had been keeping a poor diet that had caused him to gain weight. He also complained that he had to go to the bathroom frequently and always felt hungry and thirsty. After examining him, it was obvious that the condition of his gums was poor and that his remaining teeth did not have a good prognosis.

Listening to his symptoms, we decided to check his blood sugar by performing a simple test: a small prick to extract a drop of his blood. We were astonished by what the machine showed. Just to be sure, we did the test two more times, and in effect, his sugar was certainly too high, way above normal.

As dentists, we cannot diagnose the disease for certain, but we can refer patients to doctors and specialists. After further evaluation by Jose’s physician, our suspicions were confirmed: Jose had diabetes.

Tell your dentist if you suspect that you may suffer from similar symptoms. Diabetes is very common among Hispanics in the United States. Your dentist can detect signs and symptoms during a dental checkup. In our practice, we can detect undiagnosed/uncontrolled diabetes in many patients, including young patients like Jose.

When treating severe periodontal disease, where extremely loose teeth are difficult to control with only dental treatment, we often think that the patient may be suffering from diabetes. In older patients, recurrent infections in the mouth that do not heal can be related to diabetes too. Because not all patients see their physicians regularly, many times the dentist can be the first to detect disease, and the most trusted.

Can diabetes cause problems in my mouth?

Yes. In addition to gum problems, some problems may occur as a side effect of medications used to treat diabetes. Some of these medications can decrease saliva, which creates a feeling of “dry mouth” that can lead to other problems, such as:

  • Inability to taste and enjoy your food
  • Irritation of gum, cheeks, lips and palate
  • Sores or ulcers
  • Burning sensation on tongue
  • Salivary glands enlarge and get infected
  • More cavities in the teeth

Also, diabetics are at increased risk of fungal and bacterial infections after surgery or trauma, because high levels of glucose weaken the immune system.

Our recommendations

Remember, not all people with diabetes suffer from gum disease and not all people with gum disease have diabetes.

Keeping your mouth clean as well as maintaining good sugar control minimizes the progression of diabetes and gum disease. The bottom line: there is great benefit to maintaining optimal oral health along with overall bodily health.

For that, we suggest regular dental check-ups and good oral hygiene habits. If you have been diagnosed with any type of diabetes, keep a healthy diet, exercise regularly and take the medications your doctor prescribes to prevent and control the disease.