January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. While you might be aware that the disease is a leading cause of permanent blindness, it might surprise you to know that it may also be linked to oral health.

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma occurs when a buildup of fluid causes pressure in the eyes to increase to abnormal levels, damaging the optic nerve. The resulting nerve damage causes partial or total blindness in the affected eye. After it occurs, this vision loss can’t be reversed, but early treatment to reduce eye pressure may reduce or halt the damage.

More than 3 million people in the United States have glaucoma, and the number of people who have the disease is expected to more than double by 2050, according to the National Eye Institute. While anyone, including children, can develop glaucoma, the condition is most common in:

  • People over age 60
  • African Americans over age 40
  • People who have a family history of the disease

OK, but how is glaucoma connected to oral health?

Various studies suggest a connection between poor oral health and glaucoma. A 26-year study of more than 40,000 men over the age of 40 found a correlation between tooth loss and primary open-angle glaucoma.

The study found that the risk for glaucoma was 43% greater in men who had lost at least one tooth than those who didn’t lose any teeth. When periodontal disease was also factored in, the glaucoma risk for men with tooth loss increased to 86% higher than men with no tooth loss.

While the specific cause isn’t certain, researchers speculate that bacteria at the site of the tooth loss can cause inflammation, which triggers reactions in the body that can affect the eyes.

What can I do for my employees with glaucoma?

If you have employees with glaucoma, here are few steps you can take to help them:

  • Encourage your employees to schedule dental cleanings. Preventive care not only helps improve the health of teeth and gums, it can also help improve employees’ overall health and help prevent conditions that lead to inflammation, a condition that can contribute to glaucoma.
  • Urge employees with gum disease to follow their dentist’s recommended periodontal treatment. Along with tooth loss, periodontitis has been linked to other health problems, including inflammation. If you don’t already, consider offering periodontal benefits, including our SmileWay® Wellness Benefits.
  • Take advantage of Delta Dental’s materials. You can take advantage of a variety of materials to support your employees during Glaucoma Awareness Month, including emails, posters, articles and videos.
  • Make our materials accessible for your employees. Delta Dental can also translate written materials, such as plan information, to Braille or audio for blind and low-vision employees. Contact Customer Service to make a request.