Seeing Diabetes in Teeth

Prediabetes and diabetes can be identified by dentists

(RxWiki News) The health of your teeth is tied to your overall health. Dentists can protect you from infections and problems caused by bacteria. Now, it seems they can also spot diabetes.

Dentists can tell if people have diabetes by looking at the number of missing teeth and the amount of gingivitis (gum inflammation) that a patient has.

"Your dentist offers more than just teeth cleaning."

Gingivitis, or periodontal disease, can show up early in diabetes, says Ira Lamster, D.D.S., M.S., from the College of Dental Medicine at Columbia University and senior author of this study. Past studies have look at how doctors in a medical setting can use gingivitis to spot diabetes, Lamster explains. For this study, researchers wanted to see how dentists could play a role in diagnosing diabetes.

Dr. Lamster and colleagues found that dentists could use a simple math equation to spot patients with prediabetes and diabetes.

In order to see who has diabetes, dentists only need to enter two pieces of dental information into the equation: the number of missing teeth and the percentage of deep periodontal pockets (the spaces between the gums and teeth).

These findings could help doctors spot diabetes early in their patients. Recognizing diabetes early is important because early treatment can protect patients from serious complications caused by the disease, says Evanthia Lalla, D.D.S., from the College of Dental Medicine at Columbia University and lead author of the study.

Lalla adds that the study's results offer a simple way to spot diabetes in all dental-care settings.

The Columbia University researchers came to these findings by studying about 600 patients at a dental clinic in Manhattan. All of the participants were 40 years or older if they were non-Hispanic white and 30 years or older if they were Hispanic or non-white. None of them had ever been told that they had diabetes or prediabetes.

About 530 patients underwent a periodontal exam and a hemoglobin A1c test, a test that measures blood sugar levels. The patients came back for a fasting plasma glucose test, which shows if someone has diabetes or prediabetes. The plasma glucose test was needed in order to see if the math equation was accurate at spotting diabetes.

The study is published in the July 2011 issue of the Journal of Dental Research.

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Review Date: 
July 15, 2011