Diabetes & Oral Health

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Diabetes is always something we think of that happens to someone else. But, what about you, or someone in your family? As of 2014, a report from the CDC estimated 21.9 million people in the U.S. suffer from diagnosed diabetes and an additional 27.8% (8.1 million people in the U.S.) suffer from diabetes without even knowing it. We all know that diabetes can lead to a whole host of general health problems, but did you know that it can also put you at risk for dental issues? The implications of high blood sugar extend to every part of the body — including teeth and gums. When it comes to diabetes, teeth and gum problems are something you need to be aware of.

The goal of this article is to share some information with you about just a few of the ways diabetes can wreak havoc on your mouth, and how you can prevent this damage from occurring if you are one of the 21.9 million people in the U.S. who suffer from diabetes.

Diabetes Raises Risk for Gum Disease:

Diabetes can reduce the blood supply to the gums, which increases the risk for gum disease. This risk is severely increased if you had poor dental health and hygiene prior to being diagnosed with diabetes.

Gum disease takes two forms: gingivitis and periodontitis. Gingivitis is less serious, but can develop very quickly into periodontitis if left untreated. The poor circulation affects the blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the gums, called the gingiva, and the cells in your mouth that help fight off infection. If the gums can’t get the nutrients they need, then it’s harder to fight infection. Also, poor circulation means the blood can’t carry away bad bacteria effectively. In addition to cutting off blood to the gums, diabetes reduces the body’s resistance to infection, putting the gums at risk for gingivitis, an inflammation caused by the bacteria in the form of plaque. The longer plaque remains on your teeth, the more it irritates the gingiva — the part of your gums around the base of your teeth.

The main symptoms of gingivitis are red, swollen, and bleeding gums. It is important to contact your dentist as soon as these symptoms develop so the problem can be addressed.

Untreated gingivitis can lead to a more serious infection called periodontitis, which affects the tissue and bones that support your teeth. In addition to red bleeding gums, other symptoms include bad breath that won’t go away and changes in the way your teeth fit together when you bite.
Eventually, periodontitis causes your gums and jawbone to pull away from your teeth. This in turn causes your teeth to loosen and potentially fall out.

To further complicate matters, periodontitis and diabetes can lead to a catch-22 situation. Diabetes slows your body’s ability to heal and fight bacteria, so the infection takes longer to go away. Additionally, periodontitis raises blood sugar, which makes diabetes more difficult to manage.

Diabetes Can Cause Dry Mouth – and Other Complications:

If you have diabetes, or know someone who does, you know that one of its chief symptoms is dry mouth and a constant feeling of thirst. This is an annoyance for sure, but can also lead to more serious dental issues.

Diabetes reduces your mouth’s saliva production, which makes your teeth more vulnerable to decay and can also contribute to gum disease. Saliva helps wash away plaque and tartar from teeth; the less saliva in your mouth, the more likely plaque and tartar are to stick around.

Symptoms accompanying dry mouth include a dry tongue and dry, cracked lips. It can also lead to difficulty chewing, swallowing, or talking.
Your dentist can prescribe a fluoride rinse to keep your mouth moisturized and prevent tooth decay. Sugar free gum and mints are also good for stimulating saliva flow and keeping the mouth moist.

Dry mouth associated with diabetes is worsened by caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol, as well as spicy and salty foods. Avoiding these foods will help prevent the problem from becoming worse.

How Diabetes Patients Should Take Care of Their Oral Wellness:

The risks associated with diabetes make quality dental hygiene non-negotiable. Dental care and diabetes care must be practiced in tandem to effectively combat issues like gum disease and dry mouth.

Start the process by following these tips:
1. We’ve all heard it, but how many of us actually do it? Brush your teeth at least twice per day and floss once per day. This will help keep plaque buildup at bay and remove food particles that can lead to tooth decay. Consider an electric toothbrush for the best brushing results.
2. Manage your diet. Avoiding foods that are high in sugar will help control your diabetes and your oral health. A good diet to look into is a Ketogenic diet, but remember: no diet is one size fits all. Work with your healthcare team to create the meal plan that works best and has optimum results for you.
3. Tell your dentist about diabetes. This will ensure that you receive the best care possible for your specific needs.
4. Schedule regular dental visits. Depending on the severity of you situation, you may need to consider going more often than the minimum recommended two visits per year. This will help your dentist monitor your progress and watch for new developments in your mouth related to diabetes.

If you would like more information on dental care for patients with diabetes, please contact us or schedule an appointment at any of our Eagle Rock Dental Care locations.

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