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Case Study Illustrates Link Between Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, and Oral Health

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Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes and Oral Health

Case Study Illustrates Link Between Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, and Oral Health

April 30, 2007
By: Jean Johnson for Dental1

The overweight and obesity epidemic continues sweeping through the developed world and researchers are looking for ways to lessen its impact. Toward that end, a team of dentists from the University of Kentucky (UK) evaluated a group of Appalachian children at high risk for this trio of debilitating health problems.
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Tips on Managing Oral Health for Diabetics and Overweight/Obese Patients
  • See your dentist at the first sign of bleeding gums.
  • Remember that good circulation necessary for healthy gums and teeth can be significantly compromised by diabetes and obesity.
  • Appreciate that brushing, or at least rinsing, the teeth after consuming sugary drinks or foods will greatly reduce oral health problems.
  • Understand that brushing after each meal and flossing daily are practices that will promote oral health.
  • Approach behavioral changes related to exercise and nutrition in small, steady increments.

  • What Goes Around Comes Around

    Diabetes that stems from impaired pancreatic function might seem like a matter far removed from the teeth, gums, and mouth, and vice versa. But science has confirmed a complementary relationship between diabetes and oral health. Diabetes can lower a person’s resistance to infection and can slow the healing process. Conversely, infections in the mouth can adversely affect a patient’s ability to control their diabetes.

    More research has clearly demonstrated that obesity is at the root of rising instances of diabetes – and not only in adult populations, but most recently in children as well. Also, it goes without saying that the sugary foods overweight and obese populations tend to consume increase the risk for tooth decay. In sum, it’s difficult to talk about obesity, diabetes, and oral health without addressing all three of these conditions.

    Poor Health Habits + Low Access to Dental Care = High Risk for Diabetes and Oral Health Problems

    Nearly 800,000 new cases of diabetes are diagnosed each year, and rural Kentucky has its share. Thus, in an effort to identify early intervention strategies, the UK team targeted rural children in the state for their study. It goes without saying, of course, that the goal is an ambitious one, given the increasingly sedentary lifestyles and poor nutritional habits that mark the majority of the American population.

    But the research team proceeded in the faith that information is illuminating and education does help people make better choices. They studied 540 children across four elementary schools in rural Appalachia. Findings showed that 47 percent had “urgent or early dental treatment needs.” To compound problems, 32 percent of the group was un-insured and 47 percent was on Medicaid. Substantial problems existed in part because money was not available for dental care and regular cleanings.

    In addition to the financial data collected, height and weight measurements were taken of the children. Results showed that 36 to 49 percent of the group had significant enough overweight and obesity problems to be at high risk for type 2 diabetes. With one third to one half of these rural children poised to lead lives plagued by chronic and potentially debilitating health problems, researchers concluded that effective health intervention strategies need to be implemented.

    As Goes Appalachia, So Goes the Nation

    At first glance, one might dismiss the Appalachian study as not particularly relevant to the rest of American society. Most folks living in the mainstream, one might argue, have greater financial resources. Also, one could add, urban dwellers have access to the latest gyms and diet programs, so they aren’t going to become obese and walk down that long lonesome road to type 2 diabetes.

    Unfortunately, larger accumulated research paints a different picture. The message is that more of us than care to admit are watching our waistlines expand, putting off trips to the dentist, and hearing our doctors warn us against looming diabetes.

    “That’s mostly true for us even though on the money part, we can afford to see our dentist,” said Arlene Halvorstan of Portland, shuddering as her normally pleasant face dissolves into an expression of distaste and fear. “But I hate to go. I just really do. For me it’s not too much of a problem so far – knock on wood. But I guess my husband is following the big trend. He’s gained weight and now has type 2 diabetes. They told us that his mouth needs extra care now as well, but it’s true that we’ve procrastinated on him getting in more often.”

    Halvorstan’s usual bright smile returns. “But I promise. If you provide a list of things to do in your article, we’ll be sure to have a look and see about treating ourselves better.”

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