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Dental Exam Leads to Diabetes Diagnosis

Kaiser Permanente partners with pediatric clinic to support dental education, care

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John Blake, DDS, remembers well when “Freddy” first visited him for a checkup at Children’s Dental Health Clinic, one of Kaiser Permanente’s community partners in Long Beach, California. The energetic 10-year-old had a noticeably defective smile, but something else also didn’t seem quite right.

The youngster’s dental exam revealed:

  • cavities in nine of his permanent teeth
  • slightly high blood pressure
  • a body weight in the obese range
  • poor general oral hygiene
  • inflamed gums
  • frequent mouth (canker) sores
  • persistent bad breath

Freddy received a thorough teeth cleaning and a follow-up appointment to repair his cavities. Concerned about Freddy’s overall health, Dr. Blake suggested he see his pediatrician for a complete physical to check for any underlying systemic issues.

Soon Dr. Blake learned from Freddy’s doctor the youth had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. As Freddy and his family began dealing with this unexpected, lifechanging news, Dr. Blake repaired Freddy’s cavities and spent multiple appointments reviewing proper brushing and flossing techniques. Dr. Blake also worked with Freddy, his family, and his pediatrician on improving the boy’s diet and nutrition.

Kaiser Permanente provides grant support to help the Children’s Dental Health Clinic expand its educational and physician and dental services to better meet the needs of the community and children like Freddy.

“The nonprofit clinic is the only comprehensive, safety-net dental practice in the greater Long Beach and South Bay area, serving more than 10,000 low-income children a year,” said Cody Rudaflores, manager, community benefit, Kaiser Permanente Southern California. “They go the extra mile to ensure their patients receive the best care.”

Unfortunately, cases such as Freddy’s are not uncommon.

“Seeing early signs of diabetes in the form of oral problems is typical even though the general public rarely associates one with the other,” said Dr. Blake, executive director of the clinic. “Early detection and treatment of diabetes is a critical step toward keeping people with diabetes healthy and can help reduce the risk of serious problems.”

Diabetes increases risk for gum disease

Nearly 30 million Americans have diabetes, and more than 8 million don’t know they have the disease. About 22 percent of those diagnosed with diabetes also have gum disease, whether in the early stages of inflammation (gingivitis) or advanced stages (periodontitis), threatening the teeth, gums, and supporting bone. In fact, one in five cases of total tooth loss is linked to diabetes, adding serious gum disease to the list of other associated complications, including heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease.

Like Freddy, people with diabetes are at a higher risk for gum problems because of poor blood sugar control. As with all infections, serious gum disease may cause blood sugar to rise. This makes diabetes harder to control because the person is more susceptible to infections and less able to fight bacteria invading the gums.

Regular dental visits are important. Research suggests that treating gum disease can help improve blood sugar control in patients living with diabetes, decreasing the progression of the disease.

Today, Freddy is a freshman in high school. Although he is insulin-dependent, his weight is under control and he is thriving in school. He eats healthy, and regularly brushes and flosses. He sees the dentist for routine check-ups, and has been cavity-free for the past five years.

“Freddy is a great example of how important it is to pay attention to anything that seems off and to seek medical attention,” said Dr. Blake.

For more information on diabetes and oral health and diabetes, please visit:

Kaiser Permanente Southern California Community Benefit currently provides oral health grant support for the following organizations: