As it turns out, a severe gum infection otherwise known as periodontitis is one of the complications of diabetes. Can’t imagine how one leads to the other? Dr Chee Hoe Kit, a senior consultant at the periodontics unit at National Dental Centre Singapore, tells us more about the link between the two, and how you can go about preventing periodontal disease.

Dr Chee Hoe Kit, senior consultant at the periodontics unit at National Dental Centre Singapore

How diabetes causes gum disease

First things first: tell-tale signs of severe periodontitis include bleeding gums when brushing or chewing; swollen red gums; shaky teeth; drifting teeth or receding gumline and bad breath.

According to Dr Chee, people with diabetes are at higher risk of developing gum disease because of their poor wound healing capabilities and susceptibility in contracting infections.

“Because of the mild or asymptomatic nature of diabetes during the
early stages, many individuals suffer from the condition for several years before being diagnosed. Oral symptoms of diabetes such as periodontal disease could therefore already be present, and severe periodontitis could be a sign that the individual may have unknown diabetes,” he says.

He adds that the early identification of patients at high risk of diabetes or who are suffering from diabetes mellitus [a disorder in which the amount of sugar in the blood is elevated] is important as measures to prevent or delay their progression can be implemented in a timely manner.

Treatment and prevention

A dentist is likely to refer the patient to a medical doctor to test for diabetes if the patient has severe periodontal disease, hasn’t undergone a health screening in the past one to two years, and has a family history of diabetes or history of gestational diabetes.

A periodontal health screening service is also available in the Diabetes & Metabolism Centre (DMC) of Singapore General Hospital in collaboration with National Dental Centre Singapore. Patients with diabetes are referred by their endocrinologists to be screened annually for periodontitis by NDCS clinicians in DMC, and then advised on treatment for their conditions accordingly.

At present, the treatment for gum disease is something called periodontal therapy, which involves thorough scaling, polishing and root planing of the teeth root surfaces that are contaminated with bacterial plaque and calculus deposits below the gumline.

So how can you best care for your oral health?

“Visit your dentist regularly for professional teeth cleaning every year, brush your teeth with appropriate technique at least twice daily, and use interdental oral hygiene aids like floss or interdental brushes to clean in between teeth thoroughly,” says Dr Chee.

“Also, update your dentist about your latest blood glucose level when you go for your dental visit.”

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