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Necessary Diabetes Tests

Diabetes is a condition that can affect your entire body. When your blood glucose stays too high for too long, it can lead to problems with your heart, blood vessels, eyes, and kidneys and even your teeth and gums.

By getting regular tests and checkups, you can help control your glucose level and prevent or delay damage caused by high blood glucose. Watching your health closely lets you react to problems early before they get more serious.

Here’s a list of several diabetes-related tests and checkups as well as guidelines for how often each one is needed. Keep in mind that you may need more frequent testing or checkups if you have signs of problems. Your health care provider can suggest the best schedule for you.

Image - blood drawn in office

A1c test. This blood test shows the average amount of glucose in your blood during the past two to three months. The results indicate how well your blood glucose is controlled and whether your treatment plan needs any changes. Aim for an A1c level of less than 7 percent.

How often. At least two times a year

Blood lipids test. This blood test checks for several types of fat in your blood. LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol can narrow or block blood vessels, possibly leading to a heart attack or stroke—two big problems for people with diabetes. Your total cholesterol should be lower than 200 mg/dl, and your LDL level should be lower than 100 mg/dl. Triglycerides are another type of harmful fat that raise your risk for heart attack and stroke. Aim for a triglyceride level lower than 150 mg/dl. HDL, or “good,” cholesterol helps keep your blood vessels healthy. Your HDL level should be higher than 40 mg/dl for men or higher than 50 mg/dl for women.

How often. At least once a year

Blood pressure test. Keeping your blood pressure from getting too high helps prevent heart, blood vessel, eye, and kidney problems. The target for most people is a blood pressure reading lower than 130/80 mm Hg.  Both numbers matter. The first one is the pressure as your heart beats and pushes blood into your blood vessels. The second one is the pressure as your heart rests between beats. 

How often. At every health care provider visit.

Dental checkup. Having diabetes puts you at increased risk for tooth and gum problems. This is because having a high blood sugar level can help bacteria thrive. Diabetes also lowers your body's ability to fight off infections. So it’s important to brush your teeth at least twice a day, gently, with special attention to the gum line, and to floss at least once a day. It’s also especially important to have your teeth cleaned and checked at your dentist’s office on a regular basis. Be sure to let your dentist know that you have diabetes.

How often. At least twice a year 

Dilated eye exam. High blood glucose and high blood pressure can harm the eyes. In a dilated eye exam, an eye care provider puts drops in your eyes to temporarily enlarge your pupils. This makes it easier for the provider to look inside your eyes for signs of damage.

How often. Once a year

Foot exam. Nerve damage, poor blood flow, and infections resulting from diabetes can cause foot problems. Nerve damage can lead to a loss of feeling in the feet or cause ulcers to develop. Poor circulation can mean that sores or infections heal slowly. If these problems aren’t treated promptly, they can lead to serious infection or amputation. At every doctor visit, have your feet checked for sores. In addition, you should have a more comprehensive foot exam so that your doctor can check the sense of feeling and circulation in your feet.

How often. Once a year for the comprehensive exam

Kidney function tests. Diabetes can damage the kidneys and eventually cause kidney failure. Various tests can help find kidney problems before they become severe. One test checks for a protein called microalbumin in the urine, an early sign of kidney disease. Another test checks for creatinine in the blood, a waste product that builds up when the kidneys aren’t working properly.

How often. Once a year

“A1c and eAG.” American Diabetes Association. www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/blood-glucose-control/a1c/ Accessed 2010.

“Diabetes Report Card 2014.” Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2015. www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pdfs/library/diabetesreportcard2014.pdf Accessed 2016.

“High Blood Pressure.” American Diabetes Association. www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/prevention/checkup-america/bloodpressure.html Accessed 2016.

“All About Cholesterol.” American Diabetes Association. www.diabetes.org/are-you-at-risk/lower-your-risk/cholesterol.html Accessed 2016.

“Prevent Diabetes Problems: Keep Your Diabetes Under Control.” National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, April 2014. www.diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/complications_control Accessed 2016.

“Prevent Diabetes Problems: Keep Your Eyes Healthy.” National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, May 2015. www.diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/complications_eyes Accessed 2016.

“Prevent Diabetes Problems: Keep Your Feet and Skin Healthy.” National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, February 2014. www.diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/complications_feet Accessed 2016.

“Kidney Disease and Diabetes.” Diabetes Fact Sheet, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pdfs/programs/fact-sheet-chronickidneydiseasekidneydiseasediabetes.pdf Accessed 2016.

“The Kidneys and How They Work.” National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, May 2014. www.kidney.niddk.nih.gov/kudiseases/pubs/yourkidneys Accessed 2016.

“Diabetes and You: Healthy Teeth Matter.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/diabetes/ndep/pdfs/150-healthy-teeth-matter.pdf Accessed 2016.

“Diabetes and Your Oral Health: Frequently Asked Questions.” American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/d/diabetes.aspx  Accessed 2016.

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