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The Alarming Connection Between Bleeding Gums and Diabetes

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No one likes to see red when brushing or flossing, but many people ignore this potentially threatening symptom. Recent studies show that bleeding gums aren’t just a disconcerting anomaly – they may signal serious underlying problems, including diabetes.


Higher Risk of Gum Disease

Many Americans experience undiagnosed diabetes, or are unknowingly at increased risk of developing the disease. As many as 29 million Americans are estimated to have the disease, with up to 8 million remaining undiagnosed. Studies have shown that those with high blood sugar are more likely to develop the severe form of gum disease known as periodontitis, which can cause the recession of the gums along with tissue and bone damage that can eventually lead to tooth loss. It is thought that one reason for this is diabetics’ abnormally high blood glucose levels, which result in more sugary saliva that promotes bacterial growth. The mouths of diabetics are ripe for the development of harmful bacteria, significantly increasing their chances of experiencing severe gum disease.

Periodontitis Symptoms

Problems with the gums can cause significant problems beyond oral bleeding. The following is a list of the main symptoms of this troubling condition.

  • receding of the gum line
  • loosening of teeth
  • pus around the teeth
  • changes to jaw alignment or bite
  • chronic halitosis (bad breath)
  • tender, swollen, red gums

Only a dentist can conclusively diagnose periodontitis, but anyone who is experiencing one or more of these symptoms in conjunction with oral bleeding– particularly diabetics – should schedule a dental visit as soon as possible. The milder form of this disease, called gingivitis, will advance if left untreated, eventually leading to periodontitis and tooth loss.

Dental Visits and Diabetes Screening

There is some good news when it comes to the connection between oral bleeding and elevated blood sugar risk. Blood in the gums, known as gingival crevicular blood or GCB, can be effectively used to test for the presence of abnormally high blood sugar, which signals the risk for or presence of diabetes. After testing dried blood samples taken from the gums, scientists found that they were as useful as blood from finger stick samples for conclusively diagnosing diabetic and pre-diabetic blood sugar levels. In fact, they were in line with the “gold standard” for such testing. With this information, the dentist’s office may soon become the default option for routine screening for these related conditions.

Because Americans are more likely to schedule yearly visits with their dentists than their primary care physicians, it is particularly important that individuals who are experiencing oral bleeding get the symptom checked out rather than ignoring it. Dentists with patients who report this symptom should be sure to inform them of the connection between the blood on their toothbrushes and their risk for diabetes.

Image courtesy Conor Lawless via Flickr

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