The Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) released a surprising study at the end of March. After reviewing the data, they found the surprising fact that people with diabetes or prediabetes were less likely to make regular dental visits than people without diabetes. This was despite the fact that diabetes can significantly increase a person’s risk of serious oral health problems.
Declining Dental Visits in the Population
This study looked at the likelihood of dental visits from 2004 to 2014. Overall, the visits declined among all groups, but from 2004-2008, the number of visits by people with prediabetes actually increased significantly, while those for people with diabetes and those without declined slightly, but from 2008-2014, the decline was marked, especially for people with diabetes. The overall reductions in people seeing the dentist within a year:
- No diabetes: 71.9% (2004) to 66.5% (2014)
- Prediabetes: 66.0% (2004) to 64.9% (2014)
- Diabetes 66.1% (2004) to 61.4% (2014)
Although people with diabetes and those with prediabetes started out at the same level, the diabetes group dropped off much more sharply, meaning they visit the dentist significantly less frequently than either of the other groups.
How Diabetes Impacts Oral Health
It’s important for people with diabetes to make regular dental visits because diabetes can have a significant impact on your oral health.
People with diabetes have difficulty controlling their blood sugar levels. This impacts all the systems in your body, including your mouth.
You may experience:
- Dry mouth
- Increased risk of cavities
- More serious gum disease
- Greater risk of tooth loss
Diabetes makes it harder for your body to produce saliva. Saliva has many vital functions in your mouth, and with less of it, your oral health will suffer. Saliva protects your teeth from decay, so you’re more likely to develop cavities. Saliva also fights bacteria in the mouth, so with less saliva, you’re more likely to develop worse gum disease. When your blood sugar is high, you may also have higher levels of sugar in your saliva, which can actually feed oral bacteria, increasing your risk further.
And, when gum disease gets more serious, it can increase your blood sugar levels, making it harder to control your diabetes. This creates a feedback loop that can spiral out of control. The impact on your oral health is so serious that the American Dental Association says that one in five cases of total tooth loss is linked to diabetes.
So Why Aren’t People with Diabetes Visiting the Dentist?
With this serious risk of oral health problems, you would expect more people with diabetes to be visiting their dentist, not less. So what’s responsible for the disparity?
One of the biggest reasons is likely cost. People with diabetes are more likely than those without diabetes to cite cost as a barrier to getting dental care. This is probably because the high cost of treating their diabetes reduces their medical budget. However, people with diabetes need to know that visiting their dentist can actually reduce the cost of dealing with diabetes. A study showed that people who get gum disease treatment spend, on average, $2800 dollars less each year on diabetes care than those who don’t get their gums treated. Included in that cost is a 39% reduction in hospital admissions.
Another possible explanation is just medical fatigue. People with diabetes see their doctors more often, and they may not want to spend more time at the dentist, too. They may also have more unpleasant experiences at the dentist related to their recurring gum disease and tooth decay.
To help people with diabetes, we know it’s important to make them feel welcome at our office. We focus on ensuring the best experience for all our patients, including those with diabetes. With our caring, holistic dentistry approach, we help them overcome their risks and enjoy a healthy, beautiful smile for life. We offer treatments like Perio Protect that give extra help to those with high risk for gum disease.