Researchers in Porto Alegre, Brazil, found that diabetics with sores on their feet run a higher risk of encountering mouth infections, tooth loss and other oral health problems. Past research…

Foot Ulcers

Foot Ulcers Associated with Periodontal Disease in Diabetics

Researchers in Porto Alegre, Brazil, found that diabetics with sores on their feet run a higher risk of encountering mouth infections, tooth loss and other oral health problems. Past research indicates that type 2 diabetics are more likely to develop gum disease, and the association with foot sores highlights some reasons why this is so.

Gum Disease in America

With the increasing prevalence of both gum disease and diabetes in America today, this could be an important connection. I referenced the issue in a previous post about how Americans underestimate gum disease.

Researchers have labeled the disease a significant public health concern. The American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published their findings in the Journal of Dental Research. Scientists hope it helps people realize the importance of maintaining oral health.

The Study

The study examined 450 adults over the age of 35 for signs of gum disease as defined by the AAP and CDC. Former studies only conducted partial oral examinations, but this study examined the entire mouth of each participant. This difference may explain the disparity in numbers between former studies and the current one.

Researchers knew periodontal disease was a problem in America, but until this study, they didn’t realize how widespread and urgent it was.

Likelihood of Foot Ulcers with Gum Disease

The Brazilian study examined 122 people, all of whom suffered from type 2 diabetes, for neuropathic ulcers on their feet. Nerve damage and inconsistent blood circulation, both of which commonly result from diabetes, cause these particular sores.

Those with periodontal disease were almost seven times more likely to experience foot ulcers than those who had little or no gum disease.

  • Approximately 18% of the study subjects with healthy mouths had the sores on their feet.
  • A substantial 68% of those with more severe mouth problems had the ulcers.
  • Those with no remaining teeth were five times more likely to also have the sores. Researchers found ulcers in 62% of this category.

Diabetics are more susceptible to infection, especially those who do a poor job of controlling their blood sugar. Several factors contribute to this situation. High glucose levels in the saliva encourage decay, because bacteria creates acid from the sugars in the mouth. Diabetes slows circulation, which makes the gum tissue more sensitive. Also, smokers who have diabetes are much more likely to develop infection than smokers without the disease. Further studies have shown that it may actually be more difficult to regulate the blood sugar when a patient has gum disease, so each factor can potentially affect the other in a cyclical pattern.

Prevention and Treatment

According to the American Dental Association, nearly 75% of American adults actually have some type of gum disease and they don’t even know it. Gingivitis and periodontitis are different stages of gum infection. Gingivitis is easily preventable and requires simple treatment. Untreated gingivitis may progress to periodontitis, which can destroy the bone structure. Periodontitis cannot be reversed, but a dentist or other oral health professional can perform reparative procedures to artificially rebuild affected areas.

People who suffer from type 2 diabetes may want to watch for signs that might indicate oncoming periodontitis and other complications thereof. These include loose teeth, red or swollen gums, bleeding in the mouth or pockets between and gums and teeth. A dentist should be able to accurately diagnose the problem and provide helpful solutions.

The “Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice” journal published the study in its July 14 issue. Read more at Simple Steps to Better Dental Health and About.com: Dental Care.

If you suspect you might have gum disease, a discount dental plan can make the cost of treatment much more affordable.

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