How are dental visits and diabetes tests related? (No, this isn’t the beginning of a cheesy joke.) Your dentist may someday be able to give you a screening for diabetes!
This is awesome for two main reasons: one, only ten percent of people with pre-diabetes know they have it, and as few as two-thirds of people with diabetes have been diagnosed; and two, Americans tend to see their dentists more often than their primary care doctors.
Having a second line of defense in diabetes screenings could be huge! It could make the difference between an individual discovering they have the condition by chance, likely through a diabetic emergency like diabetic ketoacidosis, or potentially having the condition for an extended of period of time without recognizing it.
Why is that bad?
Because the longer an individual has diabetes without knowing it, the longer the condition goes unmanaged. And while it may seem intuitive that if a person doesn’t notice diabetes, it can’t be that bad, uncontrolled blood sugar levels can lead to a plethora of potential complications, including nerve damage, retinopathy, kidney damage, and increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
How does it work?
Heavy bleeding while brushing, flossing, or receiving a professional cleaning is a sign of poor gum health. Worst-case scenario, it could be an indicator of periodontal disease (or gum disease, in layman’s terms). People with diabetes are at an increased risk for developing this type of infection.
That’s why people with bleeding gums were used in a study published in the American Journal of Public Health. The study compared the hemoglobin A1c test results from two bodily sources: the fingertip and the gums. They found that the readings were virtually identical.
In short, if your gums tend to bleed, that may be a sign of periodontal disease, which may be a sign of undetected or unmanaged diabetes. And your hygienist or dentist could collect a sample of the blood shed during a normal cleaning and have it tested to see if you have pre- or full-fledged diabetes. That method of testing proves just as effective as the traditional finger-prick.
Alternatively, if you have risk factors for diabetes, the dentist could also complete a blood-glucose test the old fashioned way: through a little prick of the finger.
Aside from the obvious, what are the perks of this practice?
Another study tested, among other things, patient and dentist attitudes toward hemoglobin A1c tests taken from the gums versus the fingers. In general, both parties preferred testing the gums because it was “simpler and less invasive, and eliminated concerns about sensitivity at the site of the finger prick.” Especially for patients who bled a lot during cleanings, it was also a quick procedure.
Overall, then, conducting blood tests at the dentist’s could be an easy and effective way to check for diabetes and, by extension, help save lives.
Would you get screened at the dentist’s office if you had the opportunity? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to brush twice per day, floss once per day, and visit the dentist every six months!
A. Stout received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing through Grand Valley State University, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2015. In addition to being a passionate autism advocate, she is a member of various fandoms, a study abroad alumna, and an animal lover. She dreams of publishing novels and traveling all over the world someday.