Diabetes comes with many potential oral health complications. This means that people with diabetes should make more regular dental visits than people without diabetes. In some cases, it is recommended that they visit the dentist three or more times a year, rather than the twice annual visits recommended for most people.
However, the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) recently published a study showing that, actually, people with diabetes are less likely to visit a dentist than people without diabetes. Even more concerning, people with diabetes have had a precipitous decline in their dental visits in the last decade. It’s important to try to reverse this trend and get more people with diabetes into their dentist’s office more regularly for checkups and other care.
Declining Dental Visits in the Population
The JADA study was focused on the number of people who saw their dentist within the last year, according to the results of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRSS). The results were tracked from 2004-2014, representing the results from three BRSS reports. The report showed no clear trend from 2004-2008, but showed significant differences from 2008 to 2014. Here are the overall reductions, broken down by diabetes status:
- No diabetes: Dropped from 71.9% (2004) to 66.5% (2014)
- Prediabetes: Dropped from 66.0% (2004) to 64.9% (2014)
- Diabetes Dropped from 66.1% (2004) to 61.4% (2014)
The rate of dental visits for people with prediabetes didn’t decline as sharply in part because of a rise from 2004-2008. However, the rates for people with no diabetes and those with diabetes both dropped. Although both groups saw a drop of about five percentage points, the new rate for people with diabetes is alarmingly low given their oral health risks.
How Diabetes Impacts Oral Health
Diabetes is an illness with strong systemic health impacts. It can lead to complications throughout the body, including serious implications for your oral health. People with diabetes may be at higher risk for oral health problems, such as:
- Dry mouth
- Gum Disease
- Tooth loss
Diabetes is often linked to dry mouth. This impacts your oral health because of the vital functions that saliva performs for you. For example, saliva neutralizes acid and combats oral bacteria to prevent cavities and gum disease. With less saliva, those risks go up.
Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can also lead to more free sugar in the mouth, which can feed oral bacteria.
One of the concerns this raises is that as oral bacteria thrive, they can actually make it harder for you to control your blood sugar levels. This creates a feedback loop that can spiral out of control, increasing the severity of gum disease until it leads to tooth loss. The ADA says that diabetes is linked to one in five cases of total tooth loss.
Benefits of Visiting the Dentist
People with diabetes report some clear reasons why they don’t visit the dentist more often. One of the most common responses is cost. People with diabetes have higher medical costs than most people, so dental care might not fit in the budget. Ironically, though, seeing the dentist could help people with diabetes cut their other medical costs. One study showed that people with diabetes and gum disease could cut their annual medical costs by an average of $2800. That includes cost savings related to a 39% reduction in hospital admissions! Better health and reduced costs–who wouldn’t see their dentist for that benefit?
Another possible explanation is that they are suffering from medical fatigue. With all the regular doctor visits they have, many people with diabetes don’t relish the thought of having another doctor to see.
Fortunately, at Smile Columbia Dentistry, ours is not just “another doctor’s office.” We have a welcoming, spa-like environment that includes numerous amenities. The experience is relaxing and friendly, not stressful or judgmental.