Dental News

Brushing, Flossing Stave Off Diabetes

March 8, 2002

— By Deena Beasley

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Whiter teeth and fresher breath are not the only benefits of good oral hygiene, brushing and flossing may also help stave off diabetes, according to studies released on Friday.

Gum disease may even be more important than obesity or age as a factor in the onset of diabetes in adults, Sara Grossi, clinical assistant professor of oral biology at the University of Buffalo in New York and the studies’ supervising scientist, said in a statement.

More than 16 million Americans have diabetes, a condition in which the body’s ability to process sugar is impaired. Adult-onset diabetes, or Type 2 diabetes, accounts for 90 percent of the estimated diabetes cases in the United States and is almost always caused by lifestyle.

Type 2 diabetes occurs among people whose bodies either do not produce enough insulin or cannot use insulin effectively.

One study, presented at a meeting of the International Association of Dental Research in San Diego, measured glucose control in 75 members of Pueblo Indian communities in Santa Fe, New Mexico, who had both Type 2 diabetes and severe gum disease, after treatment with various antibiotic regimens.

Results showed blood sugar levels could be reduced and kept at a lower level most effectively with a single dose of oral antibiotic and repeated application of a topical antibiotic to the gums. The effects were equal to and independent of those induced by diabetes medication, the researchers said.

“The study shows that in this group of severe diabetics we were able to increase glucose control with repeated treatment of their periodontal infection,” Grossi said.

Another study involving Pima Indians from the Gila River Indian community in Mesa, Arizona, who have the high reported rates of both diabetes and gum disease, showed that blood sugar levels don’t fall, even when sufferers have lost all of their teeth and, by definition, no longer have gum disease.

Grossi noted that in this population, tooth loss is due almost entirely to gum disease because the high level of natural fluoride in the region’s water supply prevents the cavities that contribute to tooth loss in other populations.

The study found that toothless participants had blood sugar levels equal to or higher than those seen in patients with severe gum disease. They also had diabetes for a longer time. Grossi said the study underscores the importance of prevention and early treatment of gum disease in people who are at risk of developing diabetes.

In a third study, the University of Buffalo researchers showed that using antibiotics to treat gum disease decreases two markers of inflammation throughout the body.

The inflammatory markers area associated with the development of atherosclerosis and other chronic diseases. “This is an important finding because we have come to understand that heart disease has a substantial inflammatory component,” Grossi said.

Health experts have said the United States could see the number of diabetes cases swell to 29 million over the next 50 years as a population fond of junk food and prone to obesity grows older. The disease raises the risk of kidney failure, blindness, heart disease, and circulatory problems that can force amputations.