As of 2015, the CDC estimates that approximately 30.3 million Americans suffer from some form of diabetes. That’s a whopping 9.4% of the population, many of whom will experience serious dental complications from the disease. With numbers like these, you’re likely already seeing multiple diabetic patients at your practice.
So how can you provide your diabetic patients with excellent care? By helping them understand how diabetes affects oral health, being prepared for emergencies, and making them a priority.
Diabetes & Oral Health
Diabetes and oral health have a cyclical effect on each other. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to conditions such as gingivitis, periodontitis, impaired wound healing, and serious bacterial or fungal infections. Likewise, gum disease and other oral conditions can worsen blood sugar control. However, there is hope—good oral hygiene and regular dental cleanings have been shown to lower HbA1c levels and improve blood sugar control.
Make sure that your patients are aware of the role oral hygiene plays in their overall health. Many of them go years between visits to their primary care physicians, but will show up for their biannual cleaning. Dentists have the unique opportunity to regularly check in with their patients for signs of diabetes at these appointments. After identifying at-risk patients, refer them to their primary physician for an evaluation before scheduling any invasive procedures.
Special Considerations for Diabetic Patients
Every dental practice should have a plan in place to deal with diabetic emergencies, but there are steps you can take to prevent an emergency from happening in the first place. The ADA has a few recommendations to consider:
- Patients of all ages should complete a thorough health history form, have their vitals taken, and be screened for signs of uncontrolled diabetes.
- Schedule diabetic patients for morning appointments when possible to decrease the risk of a hypoglycemic emergency.
- Confirm with your diabetic patients that they have eaten and taken all prescribed medications before their appointment.
- Coordinate with the patient’s primary physician before doing any elective procedures.
- Train your team to recognize the signs of hypo- and hyperglycemia.
- Keep a glucometer, fruit juice, snacks, and oral glucose available in case of a diabetic emergency.
Make Diabetes a High Priority
Digital check-in forms can help you to be proactive in treating your diabetic patients. A patient’s health history should serve as a cue to talk about how diabetes affects their oral health (and vice versa).
DentalForms can provide you with that cue through High Value Answers. If you designate a diabetes diagnosis as high value, it will appear in a special section at the top of the form so that it’s the first thing your clinical team sees when bringing a patient back for treatment. Because many diabetics remain undiagnosed, consider flagging a few key diabetic symptoms as high value as well.
Seeing any of these High Value Answers at the top of a patient’s check in form will prompt your team to gather the supplies required to deal with a diabetic emergency, schedule the patient appropriately for future appointments, and take the appropriate precautions before beginning a procedure.