Health & Fitness

Good oral hygiene cuts diabetes risk


A man brushing teeth after taking a shower. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Health experts recommend good dental hygiene practices to prevent teeth decay, gum disease and other oral infections.

They urge people to brush their teeth at least twice daily, and especially before going to bed.

But most Kenyans are still off the mark. Government statistics from the 2015 Kenya Stepwise Survey for non-communicable diseases (NCD) risk factors found that whereas 89 per cent of Kenyans clean their teeth once daily, only 36 per cent do so twice daily.

This may be due to the fact that most people fail to take dental problems seriously or consider them as major health problem.

But emerging evidence indicates that bad oral health can lead to the development of life threatening non-communicable disease that have adverse health effects.

Findings of a new study published in Diabetologia (the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes) show that practising good oral hygiene lowers people’s risk of getting Type 2 diabetes.

People with the condition have high blood sugar levels, as they are unable to produce sufficient amounts of a hormone known as insulin that regulates blood sugar.

In some instances, the insulin may be fine. But the body develops resistant to it, hence rendering it ineffective in blood sugar control.

Diabetes dramatically increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and narrowing of blood vessels (atherosclerosis).

It also predisposes people to kidney failure, nerve damage, eye complications and slow healing of wounds.

Some of the recommended tips for preventing type 2 diabetes include obesity prevention, healthy diets and increased physical activity or exercises.

Based on the novel study, it turns out that oral health can also play a significant role in forestalling the condition, which is currently on the rise in Kenya.

The researchers found that brushing teeth three times a day or more was linked to an eight percent lower risk of developing diabetes.

In addition, the presence of a dental disease was associated with a nine percent chance of suffering from the condition.

Worse still, the research revealed that having many missing teeth (15 or more) increased type 2 diabetes risk by 21 percent.

“These findings underline the importance of good dental hygiene. Overall, improving oral hygiene may be associated with a decreased risk of occurrence of new-onset diabetes,” noted the researchers.

They stated that the connection between oral hygiene and the development of diabetes could be due to the fact that as tooth decay happens, it causes inflammation, which is linked to insulin resistance and development of diabetes.

Inflammation is the body’s natural defence mechanism against diseases that attack people. It is the process by which white blood cells and substances they produce protect the body from infection with foreign organisms such as bacteria and viruses.

When people fail to brush their teeth for instance, bacteria usually builds up which make their gums prone to infection.

To address this challenge, the body’s immune system usually moves in to attack the infection. This causes the gums to become inflamed.

Over time, if the infection is not brought under control, the inflammation and the chemicals it releases can result in severe gum disease (known as periodontitis), which seems to weaken the body’s ability to control blood sugar.

During the study, the authors — including Dr Tae-Jin Song from Seoul Hospital and Ewha Woman’s University College of Medicine — analysed data collected from 188,013 people (between 2003 and 2006) from the National Health Insurance System in South Korea.

These people had complete data for demographics, past medical history, oral hygiene indicators or laboratory findings.


The researchers obtained information about their oral hygiene behaviours (number of tooth brushings, a dental visit for any reason and professional dental cleaning) as well as missing teeth.

At the end of the study, they found that about 17 percent (around one in six) of the study participants had periodontal disease. After a median follow-up of 10 years, diabetes developed in about 31,545 people (16 percent).

The presence of periodontal disease and a high number of missing teeth were both linked to an increased risk of developing diabetes.

On the other hand, frequent tooth brushing (three times per day or more) was associated with decreased chances of developing the condition. Gender differences also emerged, with stronger associations between increased brushing and reduced diabetes risk being observed in women more than men.

For women, brushing three times or more per day was associated with a 15 percent risk reduction for developing type 2 diabetes. Those who brushed their teeth twice daily minimised their risk by eight percent.

For men, there was only a five percent reduction in risk of diabetes for those brushing three times or more per day, compared with those brushing once a day or not at all.

There was no statistically significant difference in risk between men brushing twice a day and those brushing once a day or not at all.