Perhaps more so than any other chronic condition, diabetes is connected to poor oral health. Worse, it’s a two-way street, because not only can diabetes worsen oral health, there’s also evidence that poor oral health can worsen diabetes.
Chances are, at least one of your employees is affected by the disease. Currently, more than 34 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and as many as one in three American adults has prediabetes.
Diabetes can not only affect the health of your employees but also the health of your company. Medical costs for people with diabetes are twice as high as they are for people without the disease, and these medical costs, combined with the cost lost work and wages, total more than $325 billion annually. And as an added risk, having type 2 diabetes, and possibly type 1 or gestational diabetes, increases the risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
People with diabetes are more susceptible to a number of serious oral health problems. For instance, diabetes can increase the sugar in saliva, which feeds the bacteria that cause tooth decay and cavities. Ironically, it may also decrease the saliva in the mouth, which can lead to cavities.
Gum disease is also a risk because diabetes reduces the body’s ability to fight oral infections and heal. Bacteria in infected gums can lead to bad breath, bleeding and swelling in the gums, mouth pain, and eventually loose teeth or tooth loss. It should also be noted that people with diabetes who smoke have a greatly increased risk of gum disease.
On the flip side, gum disease may affect blood sugar levels, which can worsen diabetes and make it harder to control.
And that’s many people aren’t even aware they have diabetes. The CDC estimates that as many as 20% of the people who have the disease are unaware they have it, and that number leaps to 84% for people who have prediabetes.
Oral symptoms of diabetes to watch for include dry mouth, bad breath, a burning sensation in the mouth (also known as burning mouth syndrome or BMS), a reduced or altered sense of taste, oral yeast infections, new or worsening gum disease and oral infections that are slow to heal.
To help your employees maintain their oral and overall health, here are a few simple suggestions: