Last time, we looked at how treating gum disease can help improve glucose control in patients with diabetes. Now, a new study in PLOS One suggests another dental factor that may help: better chewing.
Just under 100 people with diabetes took part and were divided into two groups. One group consisted of people with acceptable “occlusal function.” In other words, they could chew properly. Those in the other group couldn’t chew as well, as they were missing too many teeth (a likely consequence of the gum disease that usually accompanies diabetes).
All participants had labs done to determine their HbA1c levels, the standard measure of blood glucose over time. The researchers then compared the lab results.
HbA1c levels were 2% higher in those who had trouble chewing. That may not sound like a big deal, but the average level for this group was 9.42, which clearly reflects uncontrolled diabetes – even though its members, like all study participants, were on diabetes medications. Those in the able-to-chew group had an average level of 7.48 – still diabetic but not out of control.
Previous research has also shown that for every 1% uptick in HbA1c levels, there’s a roughly 40% increase in the risk of death from heart disease.
So why should chewing ability make such a difference?
About 40–50% of the patients reported a preference for eating liquid or pureed foods, indicating that they are somewhat concerned, as difficulty or dissatisfaction with mastication can lead to dietary restrictions and, consequently, interfere with glycemic control, harming the quality of life of subjects.
In other words, those who have trouble chewing tend to gravitate toward softer foods of lower nutritional quality. Often, these are hyper-processed products, too, and those have their own damaging effects on the body. They tend to be lower in protein, lower in fiber, and other tougher-to-digest nutrients. They disrupt microbial balance in the gut, which has its own implications for whole body health.
But here’s the good and hopeful part: restoring dentition – and thus, the ability to chew – may improve diabetes symptoms dramatically, as demonstrated in a 2020 case report by one of the same co-authors of the new PLOS One study.
It involved a patient with type 2 diabetes whose chewing function was so impaired that they got their nutrition by using a bottle and eating baby food. They initially presented with an HbA1c of 9.1. Four months after receiving implant dentures, their level dropped to 7.8. After a year and a half, it had dropped to 6.2.
That’s a prediabetic level.
Learn more about the metal-free restorations we provide, including zirconia dental implants, which can even support full dentures. You’ll find even more about this on our blog, including how these implants compare to the traditional titanium devices.