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.
So how are diabetes and oral health linked, anyway?
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 there’s another issue…
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.
So, what can I do?
To help your employees maintain their oral and overall health, here are a few simple suggestions:
- Ask employees to watch for the symptoms of untreated diabetes. Post the possible symptoms on your company’s website or social media feed, or consider blasting an informational email to employees.
- Provide employees with oral health tips. Tips could include brushing for two to three minutes twice each day with fluoridated toothpaste, flossing daily, and eating a diet rich in mouth-friendly nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin C and calcium. And be sure to take advantage of Delta Dental’s wellness content. For November, we’re offering a collection of diabetes-themed oral health emails, flyers and articles that are perfect for educating your employees.
- Remind employees to use their dental benefits. Not surprisingly, people who have dental benefits are more likely to visit the dentist than people without them. But they’re also more likely take their children to the dentist and have better overall health than people without dental benefits, according to a National Association of Dental Plans (NADP) report.
- Suggest that employees schedule regular diagnostic oral exams. Regular oral exams can help detect early signs of diabetes and well as other diseases.
- If you don’t already, consider offering SmileWay® Wellness Benefits as a part of your employees’ dental package. Available for Delta Dental PPO™ plans, SmileWay Wellness Benefits provide employees with chronic health conditions such as diabetes with additional annual cleanings and gum treatments that help treat oral issues associated with the disease.