Diabetics visit dentist less often despite link between oral health, diabetes

April 2 (UPI) — Diabetic adults are less likely to go to the dentist than people with prediabetes or who don’t have diabetes, according to a study of 2.5 million people.

Researchers at New York University’s College of Nursing and East Carolina University’s School of Medicine found that people with diabetes were the least likely to obtain oral healthcare. Their findings have been published in the Journal of the American Dental Association.

Periodontal disease, which is a chronic inflammation of the gums and surrounding tissue and bone, has been called the “sixth complication” of diabetes after kidney disease, retina damage, heart disease, lower limb amputation and brain disease.

Research has shown that periodontal disease has an adverse effect on blood glucose control, which can lead to diabetes.

“For people living with diabetes, regular dental check-ups — paired with proactive dental and diabetes self-care — are important for maintaining good oral health,” Dr. Bei Wu, a professor in Global Health and director of Global Health & Aging Research at NYU, said in a press release. “Regular dental visits provide opportunities for prevention, early detection, and treatment of periodontal disease, which can potentially help with blood glucose control and preventing complications from diabetes.”

The researchers examined 2004-14 data collected as part of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, an annual telephone survey of U.S. adults 21 and older. The breakdown included 248,203 people with diabetes, 30,520 with prediabetes, and more than 2.2 million people without diabetes.

Over the decades, the percentage of annual dental visits declined from 66.1 percent to 61.4 percent among people with diabetes, from 66 percent to 64.9 percent among people with prediabetes and from 71.9 percent to 66.5 percent among people without diabetes.

The researchers also found black and Hispanic individuals were less likely to visit the dentist than were white people during the entire decade. Single people and men were also less likely to visit the dentist than women and married people.

“This pattern is concerning, given that timely dental care is essential for good oral health, especially in individuals with diabetes,” said Dr. Huabin Luo, a researcher at East Carolina University. “Those who need dental care the most seem to be the least likely to have it.”

The researchers noted that diabetics might not be aware of links between diabetes and oral health care. The study didn’t break down those with dental insurance, but found financial barriers played a role in the number of dental visits for many.

“Healthcare providers and public health professionals should promote oral health in diabetes management and encourage people with diabetes to visit a dentist at least annually. Increasing access to dental services is vital to achieving this goal,” said Wu, who is also co-director of the NYU Aging Incubator.