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Dry Mouth More Common In People with Diabetes, According to University of Pittsburgh Researchers

PITTSBURGH, October 30, 2001 — People with type 1 diabetes who have developed neuropathy are more likely to suffer from dry mouth, a condition that can contribute to a variety of oral health problems, according to University of Pittsburgh researchers in a study published in Oral Surgery, Oral Medicine, Oral Pathology, Oral Radiology and Endodontics.

"This is the first study to establish a link between diabetes, neuropathy and dry mouth," said Paul A. Moore, D.M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., professor of pharmacology, department of public health dentistry, University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine . "Both researchers and people with diabetes have long suspected this relationship. By identifying the relationship, we can better identify preventive measures to protect our patients' oral, and overall, health."

Participants from the Pittsburgh Epidemiology of Diabetes Complications study, led by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH), were enrolled in this oral health substudy. Researchers compared 406 patients with type 1 diabetes to 268 people without the disease. Those with diabetes reported more symptoms of dry mouth and had impaired salivary flow rates; those with diabetes and neuropathy had increased symptoms of dry mouth and lower rates of salivary flow.

The study also found that people with diabetes who smoke and snack frequently reported more symptoms of dry mouth. Those taking medications that tend to dry the mouth and those whose diabetes was not well controlled were more likely to have low salivary flow. The patients with the lowest salivary flow rates were more likely to have increased dental decay.

According to Dr. Moore, neuropathy and low salivary flow are common in those with diabetes possibly due to a decreased responsiveness of the nerves that stimulate the production of saliva. Saliva washes the sugar out of the mouth after eating. Having a decreased salivary flow may cause complications such as xerostomia (dry mouth), tooth loss, gingivitis, periodontitis, odontogenic abscesses and soft tissue lesions in the mouth and on the tongue.

"Unfortunately this means that our diabetic patients have one more thing to worry about, but oral health problems caused by dry mouth can easily be treated through regular visits to the dentist," said Trevor J. Orchard, M.D., professor of epidemiology, GSPH, and co-investigator in the study. "This study illustrates the need for and the importance of multi-disciplinary research; it teaches us how to treat the patient, not just the disease."

Type 1 diabetes is the more severe, insulin-dependent form of the disease, affecting nearly one million people in the United States. Formerly known as "juvenile diabetes," type 1 diabetes can occur at any time throughout life, but it generally strikes before the age of 35.

The University of Pittsburgh study was sponsored by grants from the National Institutes for Health.

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