The Silent Signs of Gum Disease

Diabetes is a pervasive problem in America, a cultural epidemic with wide-ranging and potentially severe consequences. According to the 2011 National Diabetes Factsheet, 25.8 million people or 8.3 percent of the U.S. population has diabetes at an estimated annual total cost of about $245 billion. 1

November is National Diabetes Month and Delta Dental wants to remind people of the well-documented connection between diabetes and oral health. 2 People with diabetes tend to develop periodontal (gum) disease earlier in life, and more severely. Though it is often painless, Delta Dental cautions people suffering from diabetes to be mindful of its warning signs. These can include bad breath, bleeding gums after brushing or flossing, red, swollen or tender gums, or changes in the way your teeth fit when you bite. Unfortunately, many people ignore those periodontal red flags until it’s too late.3

Individuals often ignore the warning signs of periodontal disease because there is usually no pain involved. So they will brush a little better to get rid of the bleeding or use mouthwash to hide their bad breath. The best idea is to schedule regular visits to your dentist to make sure that you are not developing periodontal disease.

Maintaining regular dental visits is particularly critical for patients suffering from diabetes.Oral diseases such as tooth decay and gum disease are often reversible if they are diagnosed and treated early. Dentists can also check for other common mouth conditions that afflict people with diabetes such as dry mouth, ulcers and infections. Periodontal disease and other 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 a medical consultation.

Even before visiting the dentist, patients can use an online risk assessment tool (such as Delta Dental’s myDentalScore) to answer a series of questions that can gauge their risk levels for gum disease, oral cancer and other serious oral health problems. Additional lifestyle best practices for people with diabetes include controlling blood sugar, brushing and flossing daily, and quitting smoking.

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Diabetes Fact Sheet, 2011. http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pubs/pdf/ndfs_2011.pdf.

2 National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Diabetes and Oral Health. http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/Topics/Diabetes/default.htm

3American Diabetes Association. 2013  Diabetes Facts.   http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/diabetes-statistics/

Are Sports Drinks as Harmful to Kids’ Teeth as Soda?

While kids play sports in the summer heat, they will be tempted to gulp down large sugary sports and energy drinks to stay cool. Swigging too many of these beverages, however, can harm a child’s teeth. Delta Dental advises parents to monitor and limit the number of these beverages their children are consuming to help prevent cavities.

Young athletes do need to replace fluids, carbohydrates, protein and electrolytes after hard exercise. But the high sugar and highly acidic content of sports drinks can increase a child’s susceptibility to tooth decay and enamel erosion if too much is consumed.

Like soda, energy and sports drinks contain high levels of acidity and high concentrations of sugar. A study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that 12 ounces of a leading brand of cola and a leading brand of energy drink each contained 42 grams of sugar, while a leading sports drink contained 21 grams of sugar.1 According to a University of Iowa study, a leading sports drink had the greatest erosion potential on both enamel and roots of teeth when compared to leading brands of energy drinks, soda and apple juice.2

Sugar itself doesn’t rot teeth, but rather, the acid that is produced when sugar mixes with certain bacteria in the mouth. Decay forms around the parts of the tooth where the plaque accumulates. The high acid from the drinks themselves can also have an erosive effect on the whole surface of the tooth. Sugary, acidic drinks are particularly damaging when they are sipped frequently throughout the day because they spend a prolonged amount of time washed over the teeth.

Instead of buying the 32 or 64 ounce bottles of sports drink, limit kids to a single 12 to16 ounce bottle. Encourage kids to consume as much water as they do sports drink. Drinking water will help them stay hydrated during outdoor activities and make sure any residual sports drink doesn’t linger on their teeth. Another option is to dilute the sports drink with water to lower the concentration of acidity and sugar. If your kids find water boring, consider adding slices of orange, lemon or cucumber to make it more appealing. Interestingly enough, recent studies suggest that low-fat chocolate milk may be as good as a sports drink at promoting recovery between workouts.3

1 Harvard School of Public Health. How Sweet Is It? Accessed June 2012.http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-drinks/how-sweet-is-it/index.html

2 University of Iowa College of Dentistry. Acidic Beverages Increase the Risk of In Vitro Tooth Erosion. Accessed June 2012. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2516950/

3 Spaccarotella KJ, Andzel WD.  Building a beverage for recovery from endurance activity: a review. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Nov;25(11):3198-204.

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.