Don’t Beware the Dentist’s Chair

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 26 million Americans suffer from diabetes. Even more troubling, another 57 million – about a fourth of U.S. adults – have pre-diabetes, which means their blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not yet high enough to be classified as diabetes. Delta Dental is reminding Americans during “National Diabetes Month” that regular dental visits are crucial for people with diabetes.

According to the American Diabetes Association, controlling blood sugar levels is a key to preventing many serious complications of diabetes such as heart disease, kidney disease and stroke. Research also suggests a two-way relationship between serious periodontal (gum) disease and diabetes. Not only are people with diabetes more susceptible to severe gum disease, but it may have the potential to affect blood glucose control and contribute to the progression of diabetes.1 People with diabetes tend to develop periodontal disease earlier in life, and more severely. Instead of losing their teeth from gum disease in their 60s, they might begin losing teeth in their mid-40s. Smokers with diabetes are especially at-risk for gum disease and tooth loss.

Unfortunately, studies have found that people with diabetes see their dentist less often than those without the disease.2 Dentist visits are crucial because oral diseases such as tooth decay and gum disease are often reversible if they are diagnosed early and preventive treatments are delivered. Dentists will also check for other common mouth conditions that afflict people with diabetes such as dry mouth, ulcers and infections. Mouth conditions may also be a sign that other medical conditions exist elsewhere in the body. Depending on their findings, the dentist might advise patients to seek medical attention.

Daily brushing and flossing, regular dental check-ups and good blood glucose control are the best defenses against periodontal disease. In addition, quitting smoking may be the most important thing that people can do to protect their oral and overall health. The good news is that with proper dental hygiene at home and regular visits to the dentist (at least twice annually), there’s no reason people with diabetes should have worse oral health than people without.

1 American Diabetes Association. News and Research. http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/oral-health-and-hygiene/oral-health-faqs.html Accessed October 2012.

2 Macek MD, Tomar SL. Dental care visits among dentate adults with diabetes and periodontitis. J Public Health Dent. 2009 Fall;69(4):284-9.

Vote for Good Oral Hygiene

My fellow citizens: If you are like most Americans, a toothbrush, a tube of toothpaste and a spool of dental floss are long-standing incumbents in your bathroom cabinet.

During Dental Hygiene Month, another candidate, mouthrinse (also known as mouthwash), is vying for a spot beside the aforementioned daily use products. Should you welcome it to this exclusive club?

For its part, mouthrinse has long campaigned on a cosmetic platform of simply reducing or eliminating bad breath and making your mouth feel fresh. The cosmetic mouthrinse caucus has a large and loyal following. People who use it like that it eliminates bad breath, morning mouth and pesky food particles when used after meals, and that it promises to meld easily into your morning or evening routine. These are noble ideals.

More recently, a new ideology, therapeutic mouthrinse, has tried to distance itself from the cosmetic party line. Therapeutic mouthrinse has on its slate active ingredients like fluoride to fight cavities, and anti-microbial agents (such as hydrogen peroxide) to combat plaque, gingivitis and other gum diseases.

Every candidate has its critics, however, and mouthrinse is no different. Some point out that cosmetic mouthwash has too limited an agenda, that it just masks bad breath but doesn’t reduce cavities, gingivitis or plaque. Others have questioned the harmful effects of some mouthrinse products’ high concentration of alcohol content (ranging anywhere from 6.6 percent to 26.9 percent). A small but vocal contingent believes that factor could be a risk for oral cancer, but so far the overall evidence does not support that conclusion.

These criticisms have led mouthwash to position itself as a dental hygiene populist product that can appeal to all people, introducing non-alcoholic varieties to please even the harshest critics. It has also rolled out exciting new flavors (like cinnamon, bubblegum and orange) to appeal to a block of voters who want fresh breath but desire more than just the taste of mint.

“Mouthrinses are not a substitute for brushing or flossing but they might be a useful addition to your daily oral hygiene routine,” said Dr. Bill Kohn, DDS, a mouthrinse campaign expert and Delta Dental’s vice president for dental science and policy. “At a minimum, most mouthrinses will at least provide temporary relief from bad breath. Check with your dentist if you have persistent bad breath or to see if you would benefit from a mouthrinse that has fluoride or anti-bacterial agents to protect against cavities or periodontal diseases.”