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Oral Health Buzz

Diabetes: What You Need to Know

James Burke Fine DMD

Diabetes is a chronic disease associated with many other health issues. There are two forms of this disease. The first form is called Type I, in which the pancreas does not produce sufficient insulin to control the level of sugar in the blood. This disease starts in childhood or adolescence. The second form is called Type II. The body in this case does not utilize the insulin produced by the pancreas to keep the sugar levels in the blood at an acceptable level. Many people are not aware that they have the disease until symptoms become quite apparent. These include excessive thirst and urination. 

Prevalence of Diabetes

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) web fact sheet, there are 347 million people in the world with the disease. Of these, 90 percent have the Type II form. If not properly treated, the death rate can be very high. According to the WHO, 3.4 million people died in 2004 from complications associated with the disease. It will eventually be the seventh leading cause of death. Unfortunately, this disease is found at a high level in low- and middle-income countries. Eighty percent of the international death rate is attributed to these countries.

The disease is also serious in the United States. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) states that there are many people that are undiagnosed for the disease. This group numbers about seven million people. The diagnosed group numbers about 18.8 million children and adults. The two groups combined make up 8 percent of the United States population. There are also 79 million people with above normal glucose levels that are trending to develop the Type II form of the disease. This is called pre-diabetes. High levels of blood sugar, called hyperglycemia, can have negative effects on the body's organs over time. These effects include heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, blindness, kidney disease, neuropathy and amputation. Long-term elevation of blood sugar severely damages blood vessels. 


Blood tests exist for accurate and long-term evaluation of blood sugar. The tests are not expensive and are readily available at your physician's office. Screening is important. Examining fasting blood sugar is the most commonly used method of screening. 


The treatment for the Type II form of the disease involves making lifestyle changes. Weight loss is needed so that there is a healthy body weight. Exercise on a regular basis is required. Quitting smoking is very important, as it also is for overall health. A healthy diet is necessary, with particular emphasis on limiting sugar and fat intake. The Type I form usually requires insulin injections because the pancreas is not providing adequate amounts of insulin in the patient. 

Oral Health 

The American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) lists diabetes as a risk factor for periodontal disease and tooth loss. It also points out that maintaining a healthy mouth and having healthy gums will make it easier to control elevated blood sugar. It is important that diabetics brush and floss and see their dentist twice a year. 

Learn more about oral health and diabetes at Colgate Oral Care resources.

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