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Severe gum disease may be early sign of type 2 diabetes

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

23rd February 2017 – Severe gum disease may be an early sign of type 2 diabetes, according to a new study undertaken in Amsterdam.

The researchers are suggesting, as a result of their findings, that screening patients for type 2 diabetes when they're at the dentist would be feasible and worthwhile.

Diabetes UK’s Research Communications Manager Dr Emily Burns told us: "If it is possible to identify people at high risk of type 2 diabetes at the dentist, it could help people get early treatment and reduce their risk of complications such as heart disease, stroke and kidney disease."

Undiagnosed diabetes

Diabetes often goes undetected because the early symptoms tend to be general and non-specific.

Dr Burns says: "More than 1 million people in the UK are living with undiagnosed diabetes and high blood glucose levels - which can increase the chances of dental problems."

It's already known that diabetes can increase your risk of developing gum disease. If it becomes severe it's is called periodontitis and can lead to gum abscesses, receding gums and loose teeth.

Study and findings

In this latest study, published in the online journal, BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care, researchers looked at 313 mostly middle-aged people attending a university dental clinic: 109 had no gum disease; 126 had mild to moderate gum disease; and in 78 people it was severe and was affecting the supporting structures of their teeth.

All participants had a finger pin-prick blood test to measure their HbA1C values. This test measures the average level of blood sugar in the body over the past 2-3 months.

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

The analysis of the blood samples showed that HbA1C values were highest in those with the most severe form of gum disease (45 mmol/l) compared with 43 mmol/l in those with mild to moderate gum disease and 39 mmol/l in those with no gum disease.

Previously undiagnosed cases of diabetes were found in all three groups: 8.5% of those with no gum disease; just under 10% of those with mild to moderate gum disease; and nearly one in 5 (18%) of those with the severe form of gum disease.

Testing for diabetes at the dentists?

The researchers say their study confirms the assumption that severe gum disease could be an early sign of undiagnosed diabetes. They suggest it would be feasible to screen for undiagnosed diabetes in dental practices, focusing on people with the most severe form of gum disease.

The British Dental Association’s scientific adviser, Professor Damien Walmsley, in response to the study told us: "While there may be a role for dentists in the future to screen patients with severe gum disease for type 2 diabetes, there are currently no established protocols to do this and it would require funding in place for training and delivering the service.

"Regardless of an individual’s risk for diabetes, preventing gum disease is important for all patients and dentists are the experts in oral health. They advise that the best way to do this is to limit sugar intake, brush teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and visit the dentist regularly to detect problems early as many dental problems don't become visible or cause pain until they are in more advanced stages."

Reviewed on February 22, 2017

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