Diabetics in the dark about oral health issues

Many people with diabetes are unaware of the close links between the state of their oral health and their risk of developing complications, medical researchers warn in the latest issue of the British Dental Journal (BDJ). 

The authors of the report, Oral health awareness in adult patients with diabetes: a questionnaire study, maintain that inflammation from swollen gums can increase the severity of diabetes, worsen cardiovascular disease and increase mortality from oral cancer and oral pre-malignancies.

They also point out that long-standing, poorly controlled diabetes appears to speed up the progression of gum disease, which, if left untreated, can result in loss of teeth.

But a survey of 229 adults attending a diabetes clinic found that awareness of any association between dental health and their medical condition was poor.

Only 13% knew that swollen or tender gums could be affected by diabetes, or vice versa, while fewer still (12%) were aware that there could be a link between loose teeth and diabetes.

‘Dental and oral self-care tasks were rated as less important than other diabetes self-care tasks, such as taking prescribed medication or having regular eye checks,’ said the researchers from Warwick Medical School.

‘Around one-third of patients rated daily flossing as the least important health related activity.”

Commenting on the findings, the British Dental Association (BDA)’s scientific adviser, Professor Walmsley, said: ‘This study adds to the growing body of evidence linking oral health to general health and well-being. 

‘It’s important that healthcare professionals, dentists included, make people with diabetes more aware of this link.

‘Brushing teeth twice a day, every day, with a fluoride toothpaste, flossing daily and seeing the dentist regularly will go a long way to protect teeth and gums and, it seems, reduce the risk of developing complications from diabetes.’

The BDA hopes the development of a new, outcomes-focused contract in England, (pending the results of pilots launched earlier this month), will make it easier for dentists to adopt a more preventive approach to care.

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