New Study: Undetected Diabetes Linked to Heart Attacks, Gum Disease

A new study has uncovered a troubling link between heart attacks, severe gum disease and undiagnosed blood sugar disorders.

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Published June 10 in the medical journal Diabetes Care, the study found that an undetected blood sugar disorder is a key risk factor in both heart attacks and severe periodontitis, also known as gum disease.

Known as dysglycemia, the term covers a range of disorders, including low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and high blood sugar (hyperglycemia). The research adds to previous findings that showed a link between periodontitis, which affects the bones that support teeth in addition to gums, and diabetes. Diabetes Self-Management has previously reported on those findings. Read more here.

Using participants from that previous study, researchers discovered that an undetected blood sugar disorder doubled the risk of heart attack and gum disease.

“Our findings indicate that dysglycemia is a key risk factor in both severe periodontitis and myocardial infarction [heart attack] and that the combination of severe periodontitis and undetected diabetes further increases the risk of myocardial infarction,” according to Dr. Anna Norhammar, an associate professor at the Karolinska Institutet‘s Department of Medicine in Solna, Sweden.  

Norhammar, who is the study’s lead author, cautioned that the study had some limitations, including a low number of participants who had both severe gum disease and undetected diabetes.

For the new study, Norhammar and fellow researchers collected data from the PAROKRANK study. The previous study featured 1,610 participants. Half of the participants had already suffered a heart attack. The other half included healthy control participants, selected to match the age and gender of the test group.

Researchers collected blood samples, examined blood sugar control and assessed the gum disease status of those participants. They then excluded those who were officially diagnosed with diabetes, which left 712 participants who suffered a heart attack and 731 people in the control group.

After classifying participants’ blood sugar control as either normal, reduced or newly detected diabetes and adjusting for age, sex, smoking status and education level, the researchers were left with the findings. Researchers noted the results should add weight to previously known links between gum disease and diabetes and show that such an association also exists in previously undetected diabetes.

The findings should make diabetes specialists consider their patients’ dental health and the need for closer collaboration with dentists, researchers say.

“Our study shows that undetected glucose disorders are common in two major diseases — myocardial infarction and periodontitis,” says Dr. Norhammar. “Many people visit the dentist regularly and maybe it’s worth considering taking routine blood-sugar tests in patients with severe periodontitis to catch these patients.”

The study was financed with grants from AFA Insurance, the Swedish Heart and Lung Foundation, the Swedish Research Council and Region Stockholm (ALF Funding).

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