BPT -- It's no secret that diabetes often goes hand-in-hand with other chronic conditions, like heart disease, and can cause a range of serious complications including nerve damage and limb amputation. When it comes to understanding how diabetes can affect oral and visual health, however, many people may feel they are in the dark.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently found that one out of every two Americans 30 years or older has periodontal (gum) disease. Gum diseases are infections of the mouth that affect the tissue and bone that hold a person's teeth in place and can lead to bad breath, abscesses and tooth loss. The risk for gum disease is even higher for the 26 million Americans living with diabetes.

Gum disease can make it hard to control blood sugar levels, and high or uncontrolled levels of glucose in the body can worsen mouth infections. This cycle can cause painful gums and tissue that can eventually result in tooth loss. In fact, gum disease may be a first indicator that a person may not have control of his or her blood sugar level.

Primary care physicians, dental and eye care specialists are teaming up to urge those living with the disease to schedule regular checkups. These visits can help regulate the disease's impact on oral, vision and overall health. For people who are not aware that they might have diabetes, certain signs and symptoms can actually help diagnose the disease.

"Good dental and vision health -- and well-controlled blood sugar -- are critical to managing diabetes and preventing serious complications that could affect the mouth and eyes," says Dr. Michael D. Weitzner, vice president of National Clinical Operations for UnitedHealthcare's dental business.

"Diabetes has the potential to weaken one's ability to fight bacteria in the mouth and throughout the body. Unmanaged blood sugar can lead to difficulty fighting infection effectively, paving the way for serious gum disease," says Dr. John Luther, chief dental officer at UnitedHealthcare. "Because periodontal disease often is painless, people might not know they have it until the damage has already been done."

In addition to affecting oral health, diabetes also can have a negative impact on vision health.

Diabetic retinopathy, which occurs when the disease damages the tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina, is the leading cause of blindness in the United States among people between 20 and 74 years of age.