For adults dealing with diabetes, receiving regular dental care is vital to ensure the long-term health of their teeth and gums. At Burlingame Dental Arts, our doctors try to stress to patients the cyclical relationship diabetes has with gum disease.
Studies have shown that individuals with gum disease have a harder time maintaining their blood sugar levels, making it difficult to manage their diabetes. Conversely, patients with diabetes have a harder time fighting off infections, which makes it easier for them to contract gum disease. Because these two diseases play off each other in such complicated ways, patients with diabetes must receive regular dental care to ensure their teeth and gums remain healthy.
Unfortunately, adults with diabetes are less likely to visit the dentist when compared to those without diabetes or who have prediabetes, according to the results of a new study.
Conducted by researchers at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing, the study found an overall decline in dental visits among adults with and without diabetes, but individuals with the disease were consistently less likely to obtain dental care.
The results of the study were recently published in The Journal of the American Dental Association.
The Link Between Diabetes and Gum Disease
As we mentioned earlier, studies have found a two-way relationship between diabetes and an individual’s oral health. People with diabetes have a higher risk for developing gum disease, while gum disease has an adverse effect on controlling blood sugar levels. This relationship is so prevalent that gum disease has actually been called the “sixth complication” of diabetes after more serious issues that include heart disease, deterioration of the retina, and kidney disease.
“For people living with diabetes, regular dental checkups, paired with proactive dental and diabetes self-care… are important to maintaining good oral health,” wrote researchers involved in the study. “Regular dental visits provide opportunities for prevention, early detection, and treatment of periodontal disease, which can potentially help with blood glucose control and preventing complications from diabetes.”
An Established Link
Previous studies have found that individuals with diabetes scheduled less dental visits when compared to those without the disease. In order to gain a better understanding of dental care habits for people with diabetes, researchers assessed the trends of annual dental visits between 2004 and 2014 in adults with prediabetes, diabetes, and without diabetes.
To conduct their study, researchers used data collected as part of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a survey conducted each year in the U.S. where participants are asked whether they have diabetes and whether they’ve received any dental care over the past 12 months.
The study sample collected by researchers include 2.5 million participants 21 and older, including over 248,000 individuals with diabetes, over 30,000 with prediabetes, and more than 2 million without diabetes.
Researchers discovered that individuals with diabetes were less likely to visit a dentist among all of the study participant groups. From 2004 to 2014, the number of annual dental visits dropped from 66 percent to 61 percent among individuals with diabetes. The number of dental visits also dropped for participants with prediabetes – 66 percent to 65 percent – and those without the disease – 72 percent to 66 percent.
“This pattern is concerning, given that timely dental care is essential for good oral health, especially in individuals with diabetes,” wrote researchers. “Those who need dental care the most seem to be the least likely to have it.”
The Dangers of Less Dental Care
Researchers identified a number of factors that may account for why individuals with diabetes receive less dental care. They believe that individuals with the disease may not be aware of the impact it can have on their oral health and vice versa. Additionally, the results of a previous study found that individuals with diabetes reported that high dental costs were the primary barrier for whether they received care.
While researchers didn’t take into account whether individuals had dental insurance, they found substantial financial barriers to dental care for individuals with diabetes based on comparing the number of visits and income levels. Researchers believe that by reducing these barriers and improving access to dental care providers, such as our team at Burlingame Dental Arts, individuals with diabetes may be able to receive the dental care they so desperately need.