By: Dr. Jed Jacobson, D.D.S., M.S., M.P.H.
Of the 30 million Americans living with diabetes today, more than 8 million don’t even know they have it. The numbers are even higher for seniors; 25 percent of them are dealing with the effects of diabetes according to the American Diabetes Association. You might be surprised to learn that regular trips to the dentist are the best way to find out if you might have undiagnosed diabetes.
As a dentist, I like to think of myself as a disease detective. That’s because as a dentist, I’m often the first person who sees the signs of diseases like diabetes. Many times, people don’t go to their physician because they think they’re healthy—when they’re really not. Detecting diseases like diabetes is where good oral health can lead to good overall health.
So how does a dentist detect the signs of diabetes before the patient starts to connect the dots that something is wrong? One of the oral signs of pre-diabetes is frequent yeast infections in the mouth. That happens because blood glucose levels rise in diabetics, setting up a great environment for yeast cells to grow and divide. Healthy people don’t normally get yeast infections in the mouth, so when a dentist sees one he or she will work to find out why.
One reason people develop yeast infections in the mouth is the use of antibiotics. If you are not taking antibiotics, a dentist will ask more questions to try to determine if you are suffering from diabetes. One of the big signs that something is wrong is weight loss for an unknown reason. Two more signs are frequent urination and increased thirst. If you have those symptoms combined with a yeast infection, you could have undiagnosed diabetes.
Another warning sign of diabetes is periodontal disease, which is a bacterial infection that destroys gum and bone tissue. It attacks the support structure of the teeth and can cause eventual tooth loss. Periodontal disease is different than tooth decay, which causes holes to form in your teeth.
There is clear evidence that diabetes and periodontal disease are intimately connected. For example, diabetics with periodontal disease find it extremely hard to control their blood glucose levels. That is because sugar content is higher in the bloodstream of diabetics, which can cause some microbial organisms to overgrow and throw the balance of bacteria off in the oral cavity. When that happens, you get periodontal disease.
Not going to the dentist doesn’t just put a diabetic’s health at risk; it also costs them money. Several studies prove that your medical costs will go down if you visit your dentist on a regular basis.
For diabetics, all of these factors highlight the importance of seeing your dentist more often than the average person does. If you have diabetes, I recommend finding an evidence-based insurance plan, like we offer at Renaissance, which allows you to see your dentist at least four times a year. That will ensure you are treated for any potential complications. At Renaissance, we want to make sure you get the care you need based on your medical condition.
Seeing your dentist on a regular basis helps ensure that you and your family will have good overall health. We may not be able to stop something like diabetes from happening, but we can do our best to find it early and start treatment. That way you don’t become one of the thousands lost every year to the disease.
About the author: Dr. Jed Jacobson is the Chief Science Officer of Renaissance Life & Health Insurance Company of America and the director of the Renaissance Dental Research and Data Institute. Dr. Jacobson is an expert in dental research, especially in the ways oral health affects overall health and in ways to make dental services more cost-effective.