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Your Oral Health

Diabetes Mellitus

The destructive inflammatory processes that define periodontal disease are closely intertwined with diabetes. Persons with noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) are three times more likely to develop periodontal disease than nondiabetic individuals. Add smoking to the mix, and the chances of developing periodontitis with loss of tooth-supporting bone are 20 times higher. An increased risk for destructive periodontal disease also holds for persons with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM).

Much of what is known about the periodontal complications of diabetes has been learned from the Pima Indians of Arizona, who have the highest reported rates of NIDDM in the world. NIDCR-supported research in the Pima community has shown that periodontal infection is more prevalent, more severe, and develops at an earlier age in this population than in nondiabetic persons. As diabetes increases in severity, the rate at which vital tooth-anchoring bone is lost accelerates. Pima Indians with NIDDM are 15 times more likely to be edentulous than those without diabetes.

Now there is evidence that a history of chronic periodontal disease can disrupt diabetic control, suggesting that periodontal infections may have systemic repercussions. The exact nature of this complex relationship is not clear. It is likely, however, that increased genetic susceptibility to infection, impaired host response, and the excessive production of collagenase found in periodontal disease may all play important roles in NIDDM. Similarities in the etiology of periodontal and other complications of diabetes have also emerged.

Studies have shown, for example, that hyperglycemia is the common basis for diabetic complications in the eyes, kidneys, and nerves. Glucose in high concentrations attaches to other molecules, stimulating chemical reactions that produce advanced glycosylation end products. These large molecules accumulate in tissues, causing damage and disrupting normal function. Scientists suspect that these cellular reactions figure as well in the tissue destruction seen in periodontal disease.

Investigators are also examining the interplay between periodontal infection and metabolic control. Acute viral and bacterial infections are known to induce insulin resistance, which disrupts blood glucose control. Factors including stress, fever, catabolism, and elevated levels of hormones antagonistic to insulin such as growth hormone, cortisol, and glucagon likely play a role in the development of insulin resistance during infection.

It is possible, then, that chronic gram-negative infections with persistent production of bacterial toxins, like periodontal disease, could have the same deleterious effect. If so, would elimination or control of periodontal infection improve metabolic control of diabetes?

To explore this hypothesis, researchers designed a treatment protocol specifically to manage diabetes-associated periodontitis in a group of Pima Indians with poorly controlled NIDDM. They found that debridement (deep cleaning to remove hardened plaque below the surface of the gingiva), combined with an antimicrobial solution and a 2-week regimen of the antibiotic doxycycline - chosen for its anticollagenase activity - resulted in significant short-term improvement in the concentration of hemoglobin A1c, a measure of average blood glucose levels over 3 months.

A control group receiving only debridement did not share the gains in periodontal health, improved hemoglobin A1c levels, and reduced hyperglycemia that the treatment group experienced.

These findings offer evidence that chronic infections such as periodontal disease worsen glycemic control and that eliminating these infections could enhance metabolic control in persons with diabetes. Additional large-scale studies are needed to further evaluate the effects of treating periodontitis on blood glucose levels. Future research should also examine, in other populations, the relationship between severe periodontal disease and poor glycemic control that has been evidenced in the Pima Indian community.

While work proceeds on the oral complications of diabetes, other studies are exploring the molecular pathogenesis of the disease. NIDCR researchers have identified an important marker protein for insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, an autoimmune disorder which affects close to 1 million people in the United States alone.

Destructive autoantibodies, which attack the body's own insulin-producing beta cells, are the basis of the existing, labor intensive diagnostic test for IDDM. However, the recent identification of target proteins in the pancreas, such as that react with these autoantibodies makes it possible to develop a rapid and effective test to screen large populations for IDDM.

When used in combination with two other known marker proteins, IA-2 and GAD 65, recognized autoantibodies in 90 percent of persons with IDDM. The presence of autoantibodies to the marker proteins in otherwise normal individuals was also highly predictive in identifying those at risk of developing the disease. In addition, these proteins are candidates for immune tolerance studies, which attempt to prevent the development of destructive autoantibodies and subsequent IDDM.

The investigators are hopeful that their demonstration of the proteins as major targets of the autoimmune attack will aid in uncovering the actual cause of the disease process.

Oral Health and Wellness content provided by NIH