I was visiting my dentist in Elgin the other day for an exam. The young lady who cleaned my teeth initially remarked that my gums were really bad and that I would probably need some kind of additional cleaning, a least in certain areas. This was troublesome, to say the least, because I’ve always had good teeth. I think she was probably just scraping my gums with her tools and making them bleed. As the appointment went on, she later asked me if I was diabetic. I thought it was odd because I updated my health form when I went in and did not check the box for diabetes, meaning she obviously did not read my paperwork. But, she did not take “no” for an answer. She kept pushing me and saying, “are you sure?” and “When were you tested last?”
At that point, I got upset and told her I was not and that maybe she should have read my paperwork. She ignored that and went on to say I have some of the hallmarks of diabetes. Well, I know about the condition. My good friend is diabetic. I can only surmise she was referring to my weight, which quite frankly, is offensive. Adding to that, her inability to do a simple cleaning without beating up my gums speaks volumes. Don’t they teach bedside manner in dental school anymore?
-Irked in Illinois
It sounds like your dental office could have handled the situation better, but there’s likely some merit to what your hygienist is saying and, chances are, your weight wasn’t what she was referring to.
You mentioned that you’ve always had good oral health and that, this time around, you experienced bleeding gums and were told you might need some form of deeper cleaning. Those things both signify that she was referring to periodontal disease. Most people think of this simply as gingivitis; they’ll see a bit of red when they brush or floss if they’re not keeping up on a schedule. That is the beginning stage of periodontal disease. What ultimately happens is that bacteria adheres to the teeth and causes gum irritation. The gums swell and start to pull away from the teeth, leaving pockets of space between the tooth and gums. Those pockets create the perfect environment for food and debris to collect, further enhancing bacterial growth and resulting in infections. It’s pretty intense when it reaches advanced stages, but whether it takes months or years to get there really depends on the person and his or her diligence. You can reverse it to some degree, too, so all is not lost.
But, here’s where it gets “interesting.” Scientists have discovered a major correlation between diabetes and gum disease. Almost one-third of people with periodontal disease are diabetic and about 95% of diabetics have periodontal disease, per the ADHA. In other words, one out of every three patients your hygienist sees with gum disease will be diabetic, but some might not even know it.
The mechanisms are not fully understood yet, but what we do know is that uncontrolled blood sugar causes your veins to thicken, which makes it harder for blood to move around. That means your gums will have a harder time getting the nutrients they need and your body will have a harder time removing waste. Researchers think there’s probably a bacterial link as well; that diabetics may have more of a specific type of “bad” bacteria or less “good” bacteria, but this research is still in its infancy. These things in mind, it’s easy to see how your oral health impacts your overall health and why gum disease is linked to diabetes, heart disease, and more.
This blog is sponsored Dr. Steve Sirin, an Elgin dentist dedicated to improving the health and aesthetics of Illinois smiles.