The Connection Between Diabetes and Gum Disease

New research by the University of Pennsylvania shows that changes in the oral microbiome contribute to inflammation that could be the link between diabetes and periodontitis, or gum disease. The research was published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe after showing that the oral microbiome, a collection of microorganisms including bacteria and viruses, in the diabetic model mouse that was studied showed a confirmed increase in inflammation and bone loss that is consistent with periodontitis.

For years, scientists and medical professionals have known a link existed between diabetes and gum disease, but comprehensive and specific research was lacking.

New Research Shows Changes in the Oral Microbiome of Diabetic Mice 

The study showed that prior to becoming hyperglycemic, with elevated blood sugar, the diabetic and nondiabetic models had very similar oral microbiomes. But once the hyperglycemia was present, the changes in the microbiome became evident. In addition, the diabetic mice showed bone loss in the bones supporting the teeth along with an increase of IL-17, an important cytokine in inflammation and immune responses that, when elevated in humans, is consistent with periodontal, or gum, disease.

According to the study, these discoveries show that the changes in the oral microbiome caused by diabetes “unequivocally” create changes in the inflammatory system and enhance bone loss in gum disease.

Taking Care of Teeth When Diabetes is Present 

According to the research, taking care to control blood sugar levels could help save teeth and prevent bone loss, said Dr. Kevin Pollock, DDS MS, of Rockwall Oral and Facial Surgery Center in Texas.

“Periodontal disease affects over more than percent of diabetes sufferers,” he said. “Part of the reason for this is blood sugar levels, which are only made worse by the presence of gum disease. It makes both diabetes and gum disease harder to control and treat.”

Taking good care of your body is the most important step in controlling not only diabetes, but also the risk and symptoms of gum disease. A healthy diet helps the body get the vitamins and nutrients it needs while helping to control blood sugar levels. Exercising more can also help keep the body healthy so that it’s in optimum condition to fight off infection and bacteria, even when it comes to the mouth.

As with any disease, avoid smoking as it can slow the healing process and cause other complications. Maintaining a consistent oral hygiene routine is even more important in diabetic patients, Pollock said.

“Regular dental visits and an impeccable at-home routine are the best tools of defense when it comes to gum disease, especially for diabetic patients,” he said. “Regular brushing and flossing will help keep plaque from accumulating at the gum line, and having a professional cleaning done at least twice a year will remove any plaque that was missed. The longer it remains, the quicker and deeper the infection will spread.”