While many patients don’t expect to have a conversation about diabetes when in for a dental checkup or cleaning, the diagnosing and screening for the disease may become more common than you’d think.
In a recent study published in the Journal of the Irish Dental Association, researchers from the Dublin Dental University Hospital suggest that more dentists should include diabetes screening as part of routine dental exams.
So what could be going on in our mouths that serve as a warning sign for diabetes that dentists could easily spot? In this post by Sandy Oregon dentist Dr Conklin at Sandy Family Dentistry we will find out.
Besides the more obvious symptoms of high blood-sugar that include lethargy, increased thirst, increased urination and unexplained weight loss, diabetes also presents itself as various oral symptoms that can be easily detected during a routine dental exam that might suggest undiagnosed diabetes.
The more common sign that points towards diabetes is gum disease, both the mild form of the disease (gingivitis) and the more aggressive form called periodontitis. Adults have three times greater the risk of developing periodontitis if they also suffer from diabetes. At first, individuals with diabetes begin to develop gingivitis before the disease progresses to periodontitis, typically at a rate that mirrors how rapidly their blood-sugar control worsens.
One of the links between diabetes and a decline in oral health is the effect the disease can have on the mouth. Diabetes can cause dry mouth as a symptom of the disease. Dry mouth increases the risk of tooth decay and the development of gum disease. Diabetes can also cause the fungus Candida albicans – which lives naturally in the mouth – to grow out of control due to a combination of impaired white blood cell function and high sugar content in saliva.
Patients that experience a frequent unpleasant burning sensation in the mouth may be noticing a sign of chronically elevated blood sugar. This symptom has been linked to nerve damage, one of the complications of chronic diabetes. Frequent oral ulcers, recurrent dental abscesses and frequent herpes infections are other signs that signal the possibility of diabetes.
Of course simply observing a number of random clinical signs does not, in of itself, constitute a formal screening process. Some form of reliable and inexpensive standardized test is needed before a dentist can make any concrete diabetes diagnosis.
Fortunately, it happens that glucose levels in the blood obtained through the mouth compare comparably with glucose levels found in blood from a finger prick or the vein.
A miniscule amount of blood is all that is needed, with research showing that roughly 85 percent of patients are capable of providing enough blood for a successful glucose measurement from the mouth.
According to researches, pulling a blood sample from gum tissue involves isolating a suitable tooth, probing the surrounding pocket with light pressure and then placing a test strip directly to the probed gum tissue. The strip is then placed into a machine that provides a reading within a few seconds.
Considering that a large percentage of patients suffering from diabetes live with the disease for years before receiving a diagnosis, researchers hope a new standardized test performed by dentists could help to dramatically lower that number and protect the health of millions of patients in the future.