By Emma Yasinski

More than a decade ago, the Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC) found that only 67% of patients with diabetes had seen a dentist within the last 12 months.

Diabetes and periodontal disease can exacerbate one another, so the organization set a goal to increase this percentage to 71% by 2010. Since then, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA), the incidence of diabetes has continued to rise, but not the frequency of visits to the dentist.

“Periodontal disease contributes to the progression of impaired glucose tolerance and hyperglycemia, which could lead to other diabetes-related complications,” according to the JADA study’s senior author Bei Wu, Professor of Global Health at New York University, and co-author, Huabin Luo, Assistant Professor of Public Health at East Carolina University. “Timely treatment of oral diseases could prevent serious and more expensive diabetes complications and reduce medical costs,” the researchers told Incisor in an email interview.

The percentage of people who had visited the dentist in the last 12 months declined from 2004 to 2014. Moreover, those with diabetes were the least likely to have seen the dentist.

Dr. Bei Wu, New York University's Rory Meyers College of Nursing
Dr. Bei Wu, New York University's Rory Meyers College of Nursing

Dr. Wu’s team analyzed data from annual telephone surveys undertaken between 2004 and 2014. The surveys, conducted by the CDC, are known as the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. It is the largest ongoing survey on health behaviors in the world, asking patients in the United States about their chronic conditions and behaviors related to health risks.

The CDC survey team has been collecting data on about 400,000 adults per year since 1984. Dr. Wu and her team analyzed a section of this data taken from 2004 to 2014, which included 2.5 million adults; 248,203 people with diabetes, 30,520 with prediabetes, and 2,221,534 without diabetes.

Dr. Wu’s team found that in all three groups, the percentage of people who had visited the dentist in the last 12 months declined from 2004 to 2014. Moreover, those with diabetes were the least likely to have seen the dentist. The proportion of annual dental visits declined from 66.1% in 2004 to 61.4% among people with diabetes; 66% to 64.9% among people with prediabetes; and 71.9% to 66.5% among people without diabetes.

Diabetes test

The study found that race, ethnicity, age, income, and health insurance all impacted the likelihood that a patient had visited the dentist recently. Racial minorities and people with lower incomes were less likely to have visited the dentist, a trend that has persisted for decades. These patients also experience the greatest incidence of diabetes, making the pattern especially concerning

Many patients cite the cost of dental care as a primary reason why they may forego dental visits. But patients may also not be aware of the interplay between diabetes and oral health. Both dentists and primary care doctors share an important role in educating patients about these risks.

“It is important for healthcare providers, such as primary care physicians and dental care and public health professionals, to make concerted efforts to promote oral healthcare in diabetes management,” the authors said.

Author: Contributing writer Emma Yasinski received her Master of Science (MS) in science and medical journalism from Boston University. Her articles have also appeared at TheAtlantic.com, Kaiser Health News, NPR Shots, and Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News.

Other Recent Incisor Articles by Emma Yasinski:

Diabetic Patient
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