ONE OF EVERY $6 DOLLARS in our economy is spent on health care. While there are complex reasons for this, one of the biggest underlying factors is the economic burden of chronic disease. Altogether, conditions such as hypertension, heart disease and diabetes make up 75 percent of the total health care tab. Among these conditions, diabetes is a major player—an epidemic in its own right.
The disease is prevalent, complicated and costly. More than 9 percent of the population suffered from diabetes in 2012, and about 1 in every 5 health care dollars was spent on diabetes that same year—$245 billion total.
People with diabetes are vulnerable to a host of serious conditions that are expensive to treat, including heart disease, kidney disease, and eye and foot damage. Managing diabetes both physically and financially hinges upon reducing the risk of these secondary conditions.
The Complication of Oral Disease
ONE SUCH CONDITION is periodontitis, or gum disease. Gum disease is highly prevalent among diabetes patients—affecting almost a third. The physical link between the two diseases is well established by science. Together, they create an environment in which infection, inflammation and poor immunity negatively interact, so that each disease worsens in the presence of the other.
A patient with poorly controlled diabetes not only is more susceptible to bacterial infection but also has a weaker ability to fight such infection. As a result, these individuals can be three times more likely to develop gum disease. Additionally, a patient’s diabetic symptoms are prone to advance in the presence of gum disease, which releases certain white blood cells into the bloodstream that are said to increase insulin resistance.
Financial implications follow, and a number of recent studies have focused on the economic impact of gum disease upon diabetes. The research reveals the potential for billions in population-wide savings when people with diabetes improve their oral health.
In one study on oral care and the cost of chronic disease, researchers studied more than 90,000 cases of people with both type 2 diabetes and periodontal disease. A portion of the group received periodontal treatment, while the majority did not. The results revealed significant savings for the treatment group: an average of $2,840 savings per patient per year (40.2 percent of total diabetes care costs), with drug costs decreasing $1,477. A different sample within the same study also found 39.4 percent decreased hospitalizations for those who received periodontal care.
Another study captures these realities on a broader scale, revealing that the U.S. health care system could save more than $39 billion if 60 percent of all diabetic adults received periodontal treatment.