Diabetes Linked to Early Onset of Periodontal Disease

New research shows that children with diabetes can experience destruction of the gums as young as age 6.

The link between diabetes and periodontal disease is well-recognized. However, it was believed that regression of gums began much later and increased with age.

"Our research illustrates that programs to prevent and treat periodontal disease should be considered a standard of care for young patients with diabetes," said Dr. Ira B. Lamster, dean of the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine and the study’s principal investigator.

A group of 182 children and adolescents with diabetes 6 to 18 years of age were clinically assessed in the study, along with 160 nondiabetic control subjects.

The children with diabetes had significantly more dental plaque and gingival inflammation than children without diabetes, and at a far younger age than previously believed to be affected. Early signs of gingivitis were found in nearly 60 percent of the diabetic children aged 6-11 — which was twice the percentage found in the nondiabetic children in the same age range. In children aged 12-18, nearly 80 percent of those with diabetes had early periodontal changes.

If left untreated, gingivitis can advance to periodontitis, where the attachment of the gum and the supporting bone pull away from the teeth and form pockets that collect even more plaque. Untreated periodontal disease can lead to tooth loss.

Funded by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, the research underscores the need for people with diabetes to visit the dentist regularly.

Please contact the ADA if you have questions about this article.

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