By Gerald W. Deas, M.D. MPH
When I was a student at Boy’s High School in Brooklyn, I worked for Singer and Fritzhand Dental Laboratory from 8 a.m. to 12 noon. My duties were to deliver dentures and to clean up the plaster splattered on the surfaces in the lab and on the floor. Before leaving for school, I also had to get their lunch. This was the first introduction to the field of dentistry.
During my sojourn through medical school at Downstate Medical College in Brooklyn, I can’t remember ever receiving a lecture by a dentist on the need for determining the health of the oral cavity.
When there seems to be an unsolvable problem, I am sure you have heard the expression, “you have to put your teeth into it,” to bring it under control. Well, diabetes is a serious health problem and must be recognized and treated properly. There are at least 17,000,000 people in the U.S. under treatment for this disease, with untold millions undiagnosed. Diabetes affects many organ systems throughout the body such as the eyes, cardiovascular system, immune system and especially tissues and bone which surround the teeth. However, if you really “put your teeth into controlling diabetes,” and chew on it diligently, you will enjoy longevity of your choppers.
The mouth is full of all kinds of germs that affect the gums, teeth and its sockets which hold the teeth in place. The gums and teeth float all day in a sea of germs, tobacco products, sugar drinks and alcohol. It is impossible to kill these germs no matter which mouthwash you use. In fact, mouthwashes that have a high alcohol content will dry out the mouth and make it easier for germs to grow.
When I was a kid, instead of getting good dental care, tooth pain was treated with medication to numb the pain. A rare visit to the dentist usually meant an extraction or a filling. The former being a more common practice. Modern dentistry has advanced to a point where almost every tooth is salvageable.
In medical school, examining the oral cavity meant only to look at the coating on the tongue after asking the patient to say “ahh.”
Today, dental care involves not only caring for the teeth but also understanding systemic diseases such as diabetes that affects the health of the teeth. Dentists now practice taking a good health history before any procedure is done. Some dentists may screen a patient right in his or her office for diabetes by determining the glucose in the blood (HbA1c). The level of glucose is determined by a simple stick of the finger before treating any dental problems. They are aware that keeping blood sugar under control will ensure a better outcome of a dental procedure.
Dentists are even concerned whether a patient is on chemotherapy or has an autoimmune disease such as lupus or blood diseases such as sickle cell anemia or leukemia and many other diseases. Recently, it has been shown that folks who kiss their pet animals may become infected with a bacteria that can cause gum and dental disease. I suggest kissing a baby or relative may be more healthy.
Finally, if you are a diabetic, it is important to keep this condition under control since the health of gums and teeth depend on it. “Put your teeth into diabetes,” and “chew on it,” and your smile will be healthier and brighter.