American Diabetes Month Raises Awareness on Oral Health for Latinos

Not only can brushing your teeth promote a whiter smile, but it can also combat a chronic disease affecting millions.

Not only can brushing your teeth promote a whiter smile, but it can also combat a chronic disease affecting millions.  (Getty)

November marks American Diabetes Month, a perfect time to show off those pearly whites.

According to the American Diabetes Association, there is “more bacteria in your mouth right now than there are people on Earth,” raising a major health concern for those with the chronic disease impacting the amount of sugar in their blood. When germs settle into the gums, they can cause gum disease, which can ultimately resort to teeth loss. And for those with poor blood glucose levels, the chances of developing serious oral issues are more likely for those with diabetes than non-diabetics. Like any infection, gum disease could cause blood sugar to rise, making diabetes harder to control.  

“Not only are people with diabetes more susceptible to serious gum disease, but gum disease may also have the potential to affect blood glucose control and contribute to the progression of diabetes,” said Lurelean B. Gaines, President-Elect of Health Care and Education for the American Diabetes Association. “Research suggests that people with diabetes are at higher risk for oral health problems, such as gingivitis and gum disease.”

These findings are not the only factors proving troubling. A recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive reveals 66 percent of respondents are not aware about the relationship between oral health and diabetes. However, 52 percent of Hispanics are more likely than other group to express concern about gum disease, prompting the need for more awareness, especially within the community. 

And even if you do not suffer from the disease, doctors, like former president of the California Hispanic Medical Association Aliza Lifshitz or “Dra. Aliza,” believes everyone should still care about how maintaining proper oral hygiene can impact their overall health.

“Gum disease is the most frequent problem in terms of oral health, other than cavities,” says Aliza. “When you have gum disease you can lose your teeth, which presents a huge problem because you won’t be able to chew. Therefore, you won’t be able to nourish yourself properly. A lot of Latinos don’t discuss oral health with their doctors because they are already worried about many other things.”

Aliza notes while there are no specific Latin dishes that could put Hispanics at risk of getting diabetes, but maintaining a healthy diet is crucial, including limiting sweets and refined sugars. In addition, brushing your teeth is essential for two minutes with toothpaste formulated for gum health, like Colgate Total, which is noted as the only FDA approved and ADA accepted toothpaste to help prevent gingivitis. Aliza also explains obesity is a common problem she finds within her Hispanic patients, making it all the more crucial to watch what we eat.

“Our community needs to understand diabetes more because many tend to focus on it after the problems begin when they could be prevented,” says Aliza. “They don’t need to wait until they develop gingivitis. Prevention is the best way to take care of the problem. One of the ways this can be done is by taking charge. If going to a private dentist is a cost concern, consider looking into dental schools, which has programs where people can go, making it a lot more affordable.”

To prevent dental problems associated with diabetes, the American Diabetes Association recommends regular checkups, controlling one’s diet, avoiding smoking, cleaning dentures daily and becoming more aware of oral health, just to name a few.

“Diabetes is an illness that affects every organ of the body,” says Aliza. “We have 79 million people with pre-diabetes and a lot of them are Latinos. Once you become diabetic, you’re diabetic for life. It’s much better to prevent the disease and we can do just that by learning as much as possible on developing healthier habits.”