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Few of us look forward to a visit to the dentist but getting your teeth examined could provide an unexpected health check-up. A handful of dentists in the UK are now offering to screen at-risk patients for early signs of diabetes.
The connection between dental health and other conditions, such as diabetes, can be seen in gum inflammation. And a simple finger-prick test can reveal if blood sugar levels are putting patients at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the blood disorder in which the body fails to produce enough or any insulin to transform glucose from food into cell energy. It typically affects older people and those who are obese or overweight but is regularly now being diagnosed in younger people.
Many people may already have diabetes or are beginning to experience early symptoms such as excessive thirst and an increased desire to urinate without realising they have the condition. The damage done to their organs by diabetes before it is diagnosed may be irreversible, making the potential intervention of dentists a crucial one.
In the UK, the Diabetes and Dentistry Organisation was established in 2012 to raise awareness of diabetes and its effect on oral health. Inflammation in the gums is one of the few external signs that a person may have diabetes.
Dentists who are part of the organisation offer the screening for free. Their patients complete a questionnaire that identifies if they are in the at-risk category and depending on their score, they will be given a blood test to check blood glucose levels. A follow-up blood test to confirm a high score then leads the patient to be referred to their GP.
There is no cure for diabetes but the condition is controlled through diet and medication, although there is an increased risk of amputation, blindness and heart attack as blood circulation is affected.