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Study Shows More Detailed Link Between Diabetes and Tooth Loss

If you’re one of the estimated 29 million Americans who suffer from the insulin-regulating disease diabetes, you are probably already aware of the many high risks the disease carries, including the elevated risk of tooth loss due to periodontitis. But while the connection has long been known and well documented, until recently, doctors have not been able to explain why such a connection exists.


Now, a recent study by the University of Pennsylvania in conjunction with the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research has revealed a cause for the connection. Using diabetic mice as subjects, researchers discovered that when patients fail to properly manage their diabetes, their oral bacteria changes, supercharging the ability of the microbes in the bacteria to cause disease, and accelerating tissue and bone loss along the way.

"The problem is that diabetics are more prone to inflammation than the rest of the population, and periodontitis is caused by inflammation," explains Dr. Michele Simpson of Wilmington, North Carolina. "But at the same time, periodontitis causes more inflammation, which is dangerous for diabetics. It becomes a vicious cycle."

Researchers also found that when oral bacteria from the diabetic mice were transferred into the mouths of healthy mice, those mice also experienced up to 42 percent more inflammation and bone loss than mice who received periodontal bacteria from non-diabetic mice.

"They believe this increase in the molecule IL-17 is to blame for this increase. When we see IL-17 in humans, it's usually connected to periodontal disease," Simpson says.

According to researchers, the next step may be to find a way to block IL-17 in humans, to help control inflammation in diabetic patients and hopefully prevent that inflammation from developing into diabetes.

"The scariest thing about all of this is that periodontal disease is much more dangerous in a diabetic patient than it is in a healthier, non-diabetic person," Simpson says. "So, this cycle of inflammation and super-powered bacteria feeding into each other in diabetics is even more dangerous to them than it would be to someone without diabetes. It’s a really important finding."

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