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The Role of Oral Health in Diabetes Awareness and Prevention

In 2018, more than 10% of the total U.S. population had diabetes, and more than one-third of U.S. adults had prediabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In the same year, about 34.1 million adults age 18 years or older — about 13% — had diabetes, and about 21% of adults with diabetes weren’t aware or didn’t report that they had it.

Even more concerning, in the past decade, diabetes-related complications have increased among young and middle-age adults, and the rate of new cases among children and adolescents continues to grow.

November 1 marked the beginning of Diabetes Awareness Month, during which communities across the country work to spread awareness and bring attention to diabetes — a disease that impacts a significant, and increasing, number of Americans.

We know that poor oral health has a direct impact on an individual’s overall health, but for many, the direct links to diabetes are not commonly understood. While periodontal disease doesn’t cause diabetes or vice versa, the two can influence each other. For example, if a person has diabetes, the risk of gum disease increases by 86%.

“If you have diabetes and unmanaged periodontal disease, it can make it more difficult to manage your blood sugar,” says Ivy Beville, RDH, BASDH, outreach supervisor at DentaQuest. “High blood sugar levels and some diabetic medications can also affect your mouth. In fact, infections and dry mouth are among the most common signs of diabetes.”

It’s one of the many reasons that DentaQuest provides distinct, proactive support to members with diabetes through the Chronic Conditions Outreach Program, which launched in June 2020. Through live or automated calls to prediabetic or diabetic members, DentaQuest outreach coordinators provide educational materials and will even assist with making dentist appointments. The Chronic Conditions Outreach Program stresses to members the importance of maintaining overall health, eating well and maintaining blood sugar as directed by their providers. The program also supports dental and primary care providers with resources to work together to offer patients integrated, holistic health care.

For all those affected, diabetes can have damaging effects on the entire body, including, and beyond the mouth. Nearly 8 million people with diabetes were hospitalized in 2016 for a variety of conditions, including ischemic heart disease and strokes and almost 16 million people with diabetes made visits to the emergency room for a variety of reasons, too. Diabetic individuals can also experience coexisting conditions and complications that include kidney disease, blindness and even death — diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2017.

Such health conditions like diabetes or related conditions bring with them immense costs. According to the CDC, an estimated $237 billion in direct medical costs and about $90 billion of indirect costs were associated with diagnosed diabetes in 2017. That’s $327 billion total with one out of every seven health care dollars being spent on diabetes. On average, according to the American Diabetes Association, those with diagnosed diabetes spend more than $16,000 on medical care per year with about 57% of that allocated toward diabetes care alone.

The mental, physical and financial burdens of diabetes are significant, and access to preventive oral health care can be a key factor in reducing costs and improving health outcomes for everyone.

This Diabetes Awareness Month, remember to speak with your dental and medical providers about the risks associated with poor oral health and managing symptoms of diabetes.