Diabetes Smoking

Studies find bacteria affected, treatment less effective.

Charles W Martin By Charles W Martin, DDS
Founder, DentistryForDiabetics.com

If you're a regular reader of these columns, you know that people with high blood sugar reading are susceptible to gum disease. You also know that treating gum disease can improve your diabetes control and, if you have prediabetes, may help you avoid developing diabetes. But if you're also a smoker, you may be making it harder to treat your gum disease – and that could add to the threat that diabetes, smoking, and gum disease all pose to your health.

Just recently scientists reported results of a study that found a direct connection between gum disease and cigarette smoking. The study was published in Environmental Microbiology, the journal of the Society for Applied Microbiology in May 2009.

Now we've known for decades that smoking is bad for you – it increases your risk for cancer, heart attack, stroke… the list goes on. We've also known that it's really tough on your gum tissue and we knew that smokers were susceptible to gum disease. And now scientists have pinpointed part of the reason why smoking and gum disease are so closely linked.

DNA Changes Make Gum Disease Bacteria Stronger

It seems that one of the primary bacterial culprits in gum disease actually changes its DNA and parts of its cell structures in response to the effects of smoking. These changes appear to make the bacterium, Porphyromonous gingivalis, more virulent. That means that the bacteria are better able to infect gum tissue in smokers. These DNA alterations also affect the way the body's immune system reacts to the infection. Changes in the body's immune reaction can actually make traditional gum disease treatment less effective.

So now we have confirmation that smokers are more susceptible to gum disease because of the way the bacteria that causes gum disease reacts to smoking. And we also know that you're susceptible to gum disease if you have elevated blood sugar as can sometimes be found in people with diabetes. Smoking and high blood sugar together can cause your health risks soar.

If you have elevated blood sugar and you also smoke, this essentially adds up to a triple threat to your overall health. The risks that go along with having high blood sugar plus the risks of smoking are compounded by the interactions between gum disease and diabetes control. Because the links between gum disease and blood sugar levels can make both conditions worse, the increased susceptibility to gum disease that is caused by smoking can add up to a devastating attack on your health.

You Can Fight This Triple Threat

Remember – if you have diabetes, smoking is your enemy and gum disease is one of the ways the enemy will attack. Go on the defensive.

1. If you smoke, quit. Now I know it's not that simple, but it's worth trying, over and over again until you're successful. Consider asking your dentist for assistance in quitting. Many dentists now are well versed in smoking cessation therapies that aren't well known and can discuss with you what may be the best direction for you.

2. Make sure you see your dentist at least twice a year, more often if you have serious oral health problems. Update your dentist on the status of your diabetes at each visit.

3. Keep your blood sugar levels under control. Eat right, get proper exercise, take your medications if your doctor prescribes them. Good oral and physical health work together to make you feel better and get more enjoyment out of life.

For more information about dental care for people who have diabetes, visit http://www.dentistryfordiabetics.com and Dr. Martin's blog, http://www.dentistryfordiabetics.com/blog.

To learn more about the two-way connection between diabetes and gum disease, check out the other columns here on dLife or Dr. Martin's book, Don't Sugar Coat It.


Read Dr. Charles Martin's bio here.

Read more of Dr. Martin's columns.

NOTE: The information is not intended to be a replacement or substitute for consultation with a qualified medical professional or for professional medical advice related to diabetes or another medical condition. Please contact your physician or medical professional with any questions and concerns about your medical condition. 

Last Modified Date: July 01, 2013

All content on dLife.com is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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by Brenda Bell
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