Diabetes No Longer Means Denial When It Comes To Dental Implants

If you have diabetes, chances are you've had more difficulty with your oral health than those in your life who do not have this disease. Chronically elevated blood sugar levels compromise health in many ways, contributing to kidney problems, prolonged wound healing, and nerve damage. In regards to dental health, diabetes is associated with severe gum disease, which can lead to tooth loss. Historically, those with diabetes have been considered high-risk for dental implants, but encouraging new research shows that assumption to be false. If you have suffered tooth loss, read on for more information on why implants are indeed a viable option for you.

Diabetes and dental health

Diabetes is a chronic, multifaceted disease with no known cure. It negatively affects oral health in the following three ways:

  1. High blood sugar makes it more difficult for your body to fight off the bacteria present in your mouth after eating. This bacteria has a field day attacking your gums and tooth enamel, leading to both gingivitis and its even more destructive cousin, periodontitis.

  2. If you also neglect regular dental cleanings and exams, you will have dental problems such as cavities and abscesses. These will develop more quickly than in people without diabetes.

  3. Diabetes make you more prone to infection, so abscesses or cavities are thus more problematic for you than for those in the general population.

The increased dental problems faced by diabetics mean that those with the disease are more prone to tooth loss, especially after the age of 50. In fact, diabetics are twice as likely as the general population to be edentulous (entirely toothless).

Diabetes and dental implants

Dental implants are placed directly into the bone underneath the gums. When the dentist determines that the implant has bonded to the bone, a crown is affixed to the top. This allows for a permanent tooth, and the placement of the implant inside the bone prevents deterioration that can occur with tooth loss.

Because dentists have long thought that bone damage from consistently high blood sugar levels would compromise successful implantation, they have been reluctant to do implants for diabetics. However, a new study by Dr. Thomas Oates at the University of Texas Health Science Center found that diabetics have just as much dental implant success as non-diabetic patients.

Oates' study included 117 patients: 50 without diabetes, 40 with well-controlled diabetes, and 27 with poorly controlled diabetes. When patients reported for follow up one year after their implant procedures, success rates were statistically indistinguishable among the three groups:

  • patients without diabetes had a 93% success rate

  • patients with well-controlled diabetes had a 92.6% success rate

  • surprisingly, patients with poorly controlled diabetes had the highest success rate--95%

Increased healing time

The one thing that dentists have found in doing dental implants for their diabetic patients is that there is an increased time required for healing before the implant can be declared a success. Most patients show readiness for crown placement about six weeks after their implant procedure, but diabetics appear to need 8-12 weeks. This is consistent with the increased time diabetics need to heal from any kind of wound or infection, and dentists don't consider it to be problematic.

Diabetes no longer has to mean denial when it comes to dental implants. If you are missing one or more teeth and have been told you are not a candidate for dental implants, seek a second opinion from a dentist who has had success with diabetic patients. The tide is just beginning to turn, so you may need to make a few phone calls. And in the meantime, lay a good foundation for your surgery:  ensure that you are taking good care of your mouth and doing all you can to control your blood sugar levels.