Flossing may seem like a hassle, but taking care of your teeth may improve your long-term health. According to research presented at the Scientific Sessions, that’s because periodontal disease, a type of bacterial infection of the gums, may increase insulin resistance, make it more difficult for you to control your diabetes, and raise your risk of diabetes complications.
It’s been reported previously that people with poorly controlled type 2 diabetes are at an increased risk for developing periodontal disease, says Maria E. Ryan, DDS, PhD, professor of oral biology and pathology and director of clinical research at Stony Brook University’s School of Dental Medicine. But according to her new study, the reverse is also true: Gum disease can lead to insulin resistance.
Through their research, Ryan and her colleagues determined that gum infection can cause inflammatory chemicals around the teeth to enter the bloodstream and trigger insulin resistance. The researchers studied people with prediabetes (heightened blood glucose below what’s considered diabetes) and found a direct association between their extent of insulin resistance and severity of periodontal disease.
Yet gum disease doesn’t just increase insulin resistance. It also makes it harder for people who already have diabetes to control blood glucose. Several studies led by George W. Taylor, DrPH, DMD, associate professor of dentistry at the University of Michigan’s School of Dentistry, have found that severe gum disease makes people four times more likely to have poor glycemic control.
According to Taylor, having periodontal disease also increases the chances of diabetes complications in people with type 2. In his Scientific Sessions presentation, Taylor referenced previous studies that found a three times greater risk of diabetes complications—such as kidney and heart disease—in those with periodontal disease.
But there is good news, says Ryan. In a recently published study with colleagues at Stony Brook University, she found that treating periodontal disease with an antibiotic reduced A1C by 1 percent and lowered markers for kidney disease and inflammation.
Since gum disease often goes unnoticed, people with type 2 diabetes or those at risk for the disease should get a dental exam at least every six months.