Is Severe Gum Disease an Early Indication of Diabetes?


A recent study has revealed that severe gum disease (periodontitis) could be an early indication of type 2 diabetes.  Researchers have suggested that perhaps patients who were being treated for severe gum disease could also be tested for diabetes at the same time.  This would save time, money, and an early diagnosis of diabetes, may in fact save someone’s life.

The research carried out was based on data from 313 mostly middle aged people, visiting a university dental clinic.  Out of those 313, 109 showed no signs of having gum disease; 126 had mild to moderate gum disease, and the remaining 78 had severe gum disease to the point where it was affecting the supporting structures of the teeth.

Another part of the study confirmed that those suffering with severe gum disease weighed significantly more with an average BMI of 27 or higher.  There were other diabetes risk factors similar among the group too, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol.  The study also showed that both those with severe gum disease and no gum disease had fewer relatives with diabetes than those with the mild to moderate form of it.  Of those with no sign of gum disease, 3% had already been diagnosed as being type 2 diabetic.  This figure rose to 4% in those with mild to moderate gum disease, and almost 8% for those suffering with severe gum disease.

In another part of the study, researchers used a finger pin-prick test to measure the HbA1C values of the participants.  These are used to measure the average blood sugar levels in the body over a period of up to three months.  Any HbA1C value ranging from 39-47 mmol/L indicates a ‘pre-diabetes’ stage, while anything above that indicates ‘full on’ diabetes.  Results from the study were that those with the most severe cases of gum disease had the highest levels of HbA1C.

For people with mild to moderate gum disease, the average HbA1C value was around 45 mmol/L (6.3%).  For those with no gum disease the average HbA1C value was around 43 mmol/L (6.1%).  Upon further investigation it was found that of those without gum disease, 37% had pre-diabetes, while around 10% had suspected diabetes.  In all three groups the researchers detected some cases of undiagnosed diabetes:  8.5% of those showing no sign of gum disease; just fewer than 10% of those with mild to moderate gum disease; and almost 18% of those who suffered from the severe form of gum disease.

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Because this was just an observational study, no firm conclusion can be made from it with regards to the cause and effect of gum disease and diabetes.  However, what they were able to conclude was that the study “confirms the assumption that severe periodontitis could be an early sign of undiagnosed diabetes.”   They believe it would be both feasible and advantageous to screen patients for diabetes in dental practices whilst being treated for severe gum disease.

The early detection of any disease or illness is essential in order to get the best chance of recovery without associated complications.  With regards to diabetes, to prevent the common micro vascular and macro vascular complications would be both medically and financially beneficial to the oxygen therapy patient.  Also, by diagnosing and treating diabetes earlier on, patients could also help ward off the risk of tooth loss, which is one of the side effects of untreated severe gum disease.