The percentage of Americans with diabetes has almost doubled since 1988, new research shows. Now a staggering 21 million adults in the U.S. have been diagnosed with the blood glucose disease, which has a potent ability to affect their oral health.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the rate of diagnosed and undiagnosed diabetes was 5.5 percent. By 2010, that number jumped to 9.3 percent, according to the new report.
For the study, which was published in the April 15 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. This included more than 43,000 adults followed from the first survey period (1988 to 1994) to the most recent (1999 to 2010). From 1988 to 1994, the rate of diagnosed diabetes was 5.5 percent. By the next survey in 1999 to 2004, that number had leapt to 7.6 percent. In the most recent survey, which looked at data from 2005 to 2010, the prevalence of diabetes rose to 9.3 percent.
“Diabetes has increased dramatically,” Dr. Elizabeth Selvin, associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the study’s lead author, told HealthDay. “The rates have almost doubled since the late ’80s and early ’90s.”
Understanding diabetes Diabetes is a disorder that causes blood glucose (sugar) levels to rise higher than average. When you consume food and drinks, the body normally breaks down all of the sugars and starches into glucose, which is an essential fuel source for cells. However, for the 21 million Americans with the disease, the body has trouble regulating insulin, the hormone responsible for transferring the sugar from the blood to the cells as nourishment.
There are two main forms of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and usually develops during adulthood, while Type 1 typically occurs in children and young adults, affecting roughly 5 percent of people who have the disease.
In Type 1 diabetes, the body fails to produce insulin. Meanwhile, in people with Type 2 diabetes, the body does not use insulin properly. This is also known as insulin resistance. Initially, your pancreas creates extra insulin to compensate, but over time, it isn’t able to keep up and can’t make enough insulin to control blood glucose at normal levels.
The link between diabetes and oral health Many may be surprised about the oral health complications that diabetes can bring. You know that sugar is a leading cause of tooth decay, and for people with diabetes, the same hard-to-control levels of blood sugar present in the disease may reach their gums and teeth, leaving them vulnerable to cavities, dry mouth, gum disease, thrush and more.
Importantly, the relationship between diabetes and oral health problems is a two-way street. While people with diabetes are more susceptible to serious gum disease, people with serious gum disease are also more vulnerable to diabetes.
Since diabetics have a higher rate of bacterial infection, their bodies have a weakened defense system. This makes it hard to fight off microbes that invade the gums. In this way, diabetes raises the risk for oral health problems such as gingivitis (early stage gum disease), periodontitis (advanced stage gum disease), dry mouth and tooth loss.
Moving the opposite direction on the street, gum disease can affect blood glucose control and contribute to the progression of diabetes. This is because bacterial infections could contribute to chronic elevations in systemic inflammatory meditators, which in turn can induce insulin resistance.
Steering clear of diabetes While the researchers found overall blood sugar more controlled, the disease also has a direct connection with obesity. The heavier one gets, the more likely he or she is to develop diabetes. To prevent this, Dr. Martin Abrahamson, senior vice president for medical affairs at the Joslin Diabetes Center and co-author of an accompanying editorial in the same issue of the journal, said physical activity is key. Abrahamson recommends walking 30 minutes a day at a brisk pace and trying to lose 5 to 7 percent of your body weight to help avoid Type 2 diabetes.
Preventing periodontal disease Proper care of your teeth and gums can go a long way in avoiding the problems associated with diabetes. Here are some things you can do to help prevent oral health problems:
- Brush teeth twice daily with fluoride toothpaste
- Use small circular and short back-and-forth motions, avoiding hard movements
- Brush your tongue during each brushing session
- Floss your teeth once a day by curving the floss around each tooth and gently scraping up and down several times from below the gum to the top of the tooth
- Rinse after flossing