March 19, 2007 / 4:50 PM / 12 years ago

Animal study links prediabetes and gum disease

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People with “prediabetes” may want to pay close attention to their dental health, if new animal research findings apply to humans.

In experiments with rats, Dutch researchers found that animals with a condition that mimics prediabetes were more susceptible to developing periodontitis, which causes the gums to recede and the bone supporting the teeth to erode.

Periodontitis, in turn, seemed to promote the animals’ progression to full-blown diabetes.

Whether the same is true of humans is unknown, according to lead study author Dr. Carla C. Pontes Andersen, of the University of Copenhagen School of Dentistry. Nonetheless, she told Reuters Health, until studies investigate this, “it seems reasonable that prediabetes patients should take care of their gums.”

Prediabetes is a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as full-blown type 2 diabetes. People with diabetes have been shown to be at higher risk of periodontitis; it’s thought that poor blood sugar control helps bacteria thrive in the mouth and set the stage for gum disease.

Now it seems the relationship may run both ways, with severe gum disease, if left untreated, causing blood sugar levels to rise.

The gum inflammation seen in periodontitis can allow bacteria and inflammatory substances from the dental structures to enter the bloodstream, Andersen explained. “These processes seem to affect blood sugar control,” she said.

This, however, remains to be proven in human studies, she added.

The current findings are based on experiments with normal rats and a genetically mutated strain that develops a prediabetes-like condition. The researchers induced periodontitis in half of the normal rodents and half of their pre-diabetic littermates, then followed their gum health and blood sugar levels over the next 4 weeks.

In general, the study found, the pre-diabetic animals were more prone to developing severe periodontitis, showing greater deterioration in the bone supporting the teeth. Severe periodontitis, in turn, seemed to worsen blood sugar control in the rats with prediabetes — suggesting a progression toward full-blown diabetes.

“It is difficult at this point to define what the implications in humans are,” Andersen said.

“However,” she said, “it is likely that prediabetes makes people more prone to gum disease, which, if not treated, has a potential to deteriorate their blood sugar control.”

People with prediabetes, Andersen noted, may want to pay particular attention to preventing gum disease, which includes proper brushing and flossing, regular dental cleanings and a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables and calcium.

SOURCE: Journal of Periodontology, March 2007.

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