Oral health has long been a particular concern for people with diabetes. There is evidence that elevated blood glucose levels can increase the risk of dental cavities and mouth infections, and certain mouth infections may, in turn, lead to elevated blood glucose levels. A recent study published in the International Journal of Dental Hygiene also found that people with diabetes may be at an increased risk for tooth loss. But aside from reminding people with diabetes to take care of their mouth and teeth, it’s not clear what interventions may help prevent oral health problems in people with diabetes.
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Reminders make a significant difference in oral health habits
The new study shows that reminders, along with some basic tools and information, may be enough to make a significant difference in the oral health habits of people with diabetes. The participants were 764 people with type 2 diabetes, recruited by 24 different doctor’s office locations. At 12 of these locations, participants were followed as a control group, with no interventions related to oral health. At the other 12 locations, doctors and nurse practitioners followed an oral care protocol with participants — which involved repeatedly reminding them to brush their teeth twice daily with a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste, frequently encouraging them to visit a dentist, and giving out kits containing oral hygiene products and a brochure on the link between diabetes and oral health.
At the beginning of the study and one year later, all participants were asked to complete a questionnaire called the Oral Health Impact Profile — which asked about oral-health-related functional limitations (such as difficulty chewing or talking), pain, psychological difficulties (such as distress related to oral health problems), and social difficulties (such as not wanting to go out or socialize because of oral health problems). Out of the original 764 participants, 543 completed the questionnaire both times, and were included in the study’s analysis.
After one year, a higher proportion of participants in the intervention group said that their oral health had improved — 35.2%, compared with 25.9% in the control group. When only locations where at least 60% of participants completed the questionnaire were included, those numbers were 38.3% for the intervention group and 24.9% for the control group. But there were no significant differences between the two groups in functional problems or other specific complaints related to oral health, and also no differences related to general health outside of oral health.
This study shows that while no differences in functional problems or pain were seen after one year, implementing an oral health protocol at doctor’s offices led to an improvement in perceived oral health and quality of life. More studies are needed to explore whether more detailed interventions — such as targeting people with diabetes at higher risk for oral health problems — may lead to more dramatic benefits in oral health.
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