People who have periodontal (gum) disease are at higher risk for diabetes, according to a study by New York University nursing-dental research team.
The researchers also determined that half of those at risk had seen a dentist in the previous year, concluded that dentists should consider offering diabetes screenings in their offices, and described practical approaches to conducting diabetes screenings in dental offices.
The study, led by Dr. Shiela Strauss, examined data from 2,923 adult participants in the 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey who had not been diagnosed with diabetes.
The survey was designed to assess the health and nutritional status of adults and children in the United States.
Using guidelines established by the American Diabetes Association, Strauss determined that 93 percent of subjects who had periodontal disease, compared to 63 percent of those without the disease, were considered to be at high risk for diabetes and should be screened for diabetes.
The guidelines recommend diabetes screening for people at least 45 years of age with a body mass index (a comparative measure of weight and height) of 25 or more, as well as for those under 45 years of age with a BMI of 25 or more who also have at least one additional diabetes risk factor.
In the study, two of those additional risk factors - high blood pressure and a first-degree relative (a parent or sibling) with diabetes - were reported in a significantly greater number of subjects with periodontal disease than in subjects without the disease.
The findings add to a growing body of evidence linking periodontal infections to an increased risk for diabetes.
Strauss also examined how often those with gum disease and a risk for diabetes visit a dentist, finding that three in five reported a dental visit in the past two years; half in the past year; and a third in the past six months.
"In light of these findings, the dental visit could be a useful opportunity to conduct an initial diabetes screening - an important first step in identifying those patients who need follow-up testing to diagnose the disease," said Strauss.
"The issue of undiagnosed diabetes is especially critical because early treatment and secondary prevention efforts may help to prevent or delay the long-term complications of diabetes that are responsible for reduced quality of life and increased levels of mortality among these patients. Thus, there is a critical need to increase opportunities for diabetes screening and early diabetes detection," she added.
Dr. Strauss said that dentists could screen patients for diabetes by evaluating them for risk factors such as being overweight; belonging to a high-risk ethnic group; having high cholesterol; high blood pressure; a first-degree relative with diabetes; or gestational diabetes mellitus; or having given birth to a baby weighing more than nine pounds.
Alternatively, dentists could use a glucometer - a diagnostic instrument for measuring blood glucose - to analyse finger-stick blood samples, or use the glucometer to evaluate blood samples taken from pockets of inflammation in the gums.
The study was published in the Journal of Public Health Dentistry.