Dental Care and Diabetes

For people with diabetes, dental care can be a critical component in overall health care.

November marks American Diabetes Month and all throughout the month, organizations and news outlets will be sharing tips and insight helping keep Latinos aware about their risk factors for developing Type 2 diabetes, monitoring blood sugar and more.

“Diabetics have a higher risk of developing bacterial infections, and when you have an infection then it is harder to control your blood sugar.”

This month Dra Aliza Lifshitz, Vista columnist and bilingual health commentator who practices internal medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles is also speaking out about the importance of dental care for diabetics through a campaign with the American Diabetes Association and Colgate® Total called “Toma Control de tu Diabetes.”

About 25.8 million people in the U.S. suffer from diabetes, says Dra. Aliza, and Hispanics are over-represented among them. What’s more is that Hispanics are over-represented among pre-diabetics, which number close to 76 million, and is a condition that occurs when blood sugar is higher than normal.

“Diabetics have a higher risk of developing bacterial infections, and when you have an infection then it is harder to control your blood sugar,” she says. “Diabetics also have double the chance of developing oral infections.”

According to a new poll, as many as 36 percent of respondents “are not aware of the link between diabetes and oral health and are less likely to associate oral health issues with diabetes than almost all other health conditions related to diabetes.” However, dental health is a topic of importance to Latinos and about 52 percent of Hispanic respondents report that they are concerned about oral health. So, why the disconnect?

“I think that we really don’t talk about [dental issues and gum disease] when we talk about complications from diabetes,” she says. “They are aware of issues that can arise with the heart, kidneys, and eyes, but don’t talk a lot about diabetes’ link to oral health. When they go to the doctor, they might have gingivitis, but they don’t bring it up.”

In order for diabetics to take control of their diabetes and dental health, Dra. Aliza stresses keeping up with check-ups, maintaining healthy habits and being transparent with their health care providers. Visiting the doctor, dentist and other specialists regularly is critical, as is practicing good dental hygiene like brushing and flossing at home, and selecting toothpaste carefully. Colgate Total toothpaste, she says, is the only toothpaste approved by the FDA for preventing gingivitis.

If paying for dental care is an issue, Dra. Aliza recommends looking into dental schools, which might be able to provide more affordable care. Exercising, like walking, and eating smaller, reasonable portions, are a couple of other good practices.

It’s also important that your dentist and doctor have each other’s phone numbers so they can coordinate care, she says. Doctors should also be made aware that the patient is visiting the dentist on a regular basis.

Patients should also put any embarrassment they might feel on the sidelines and should ask any question they feel is important. The doctor won’t be shocked by questions, she says. And they should also walk into the doctor’s office with their list of questions written down so none are forgotten.

What are the signs of gingivitis?

  • Teeth that bleed easily when brushing
  • Inflamed gums
  • Tooth pain during brushing can be a sign of more advanced gingivitis.