January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Learn more about the diseases link to oral health and what you can do for your patients with glaucoma.

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma occurs when a buildup of fluid causes pressure in the eyes to increase to abnormal levels, damaging the optic nerve. The resulting nerve damage causes partial or total blindness in the affected eye. After it occurs, this vision loss can’t be reversed, but early treatment to reduce eye pressure may reduce or halt the damage.

More than 3 million people in the United States have glaucoma, and the number of people who have the disease is expected to more than double by 2050, according to the National Eye Institute. While anyone, including children, can get glaucoma, the condition is most common in:

  • People over age 60
  • African Americans over age 40
  • People who have a family history of the disease

OK, but how is glaucoma connected to oral health?

Various studies suggest a connection between poor oral health and glaucoma. A 26-year study of more than 40,000 men over the age of 40 found a correlation between tooth loss and primary open-angle glaucoma.

The study found that the risk for glaucoma was 43% greater in men who had lost at least one tooth than those who didn’t lose any teeth. When periodontal disease was also factored in, the glaucoma risk for men with tooth loss increased to 86% higher than men with no tooth loss.

While the specific cause isn’t certain, researchers speculate that bacteria at the site of the tooth loss can cause inflammation, which triggers microbes and cytokines that can affect the eyes.

What can I do for my patients with glaucoma?

If you have patients who been diagnosed with glaucoma, here are few steps you can take to help control the condition and make their visit easier:

  • Determine whether you patients are at risk for the disease. Review patients’ personal and family medical history to see whether glaucoma runs in their family.
  • Be sure that patients with glaucoma or are at risk for the disease schedule regular dental cleanings. Preventive care not only helps improve the health of teeth and gums, it can also help improve patients’ overall health and help prevent conditions that lead to inflammation, which can contribute to worsening glaucoma.
  • Ensure that patients who have gum disease follow the treatment regimen you prescribe for them. Along with tooth loss, periodontitis has been linked to inflammation and other health problems
  • Choose sedatives carefully. Certain sedatives used during dental procedures contain ingredients that can increase pressure in the optic nerve.
  • Take steps to accommodate low-vision and blind patients. A few simple steps can make their visit and treatment easier and safer. Delta Dental can also translate written materials, such as plan information, to Braille or audio for blind and low-vision patients. Contact Customer Service to make this request with 72 hours’ notice.