A lot of people know that diabetes and teeth problems are interlinked, but they’re not quite sure how and why. I mean, it doesn’t really to make sense that your oral health would be affected by something seemingly unrelated, but the truth is, diabetes has a direct impact on your teeth and gums. In fact, 1 in 5 cases of tooth loss are actually a direct result of diabetes.
If, like many, you’re unsure how diabetes affects your oral health, then here are some things you need to know about oral health and diabetes:
It’s all about glucose control
Disease and infection in your mouth is called periodontal disease, and those with diabetes are at a higher risk of this occurring.
How are diabetes and periodontal disease related? Well, it happens for a number of reasons:
⦁ Bacteria: Firstly, having diabetes generally means having less control over your blood glucose or blood sugar levels, and studies have proven this makes you more susceptible to infection. This is partially due to bacteria that thrives on sugars. If you have higher blood sugar levels, plaque-causing bacteria have the ideal conditions to grow.
⦁ Thickening blood vessels: A direct result of diabetes is the thickening of blood vessels. This slows down the supply of nutrients and oxygen in your body, and in turn, makes it harder for your mouth to fight infection.
What does this mean for me?
Well, gum disease can cause a wide variety of pains and discomforts. It’s actually incredibly likely that you have gingivitis or some form of periodontal disease (around 50% of us do). If you have gum disease at any stage, you can experience any of the following symptoms:
⦁ Bleeding gums
⦁ Sensitive teeth
⦁ Bad breath
⦁ Receding gums
⦁ Tooth loss
Whether you’re diabetic or not, if you’re experiencing these symptoms you should make an appointment with your dentist immediately.
So diabetes can cause an infection, but can a tooth infection cause diabetes?
Sort of. That’s what makes the relationship between diabetes and oral health so troubling. Your diabetes can cause gum problems, but your gum problems can also cause or worsen diabetes. Keep in mind, this more likely to affect you if you have diabetes than if you don’t.
This is because all infections, including gum disease and tooth infections, can cause your blood sugar levels to rise and fluctuate erratically, making diabetes more difficult to control and increasing the risk of getting diabetes for those that don’t have it. So if you have an infection, you really should contact a dentist immediately.
Am I really at risk?
In reality, everyone is at risk of gum disease, but if you’re diabetic, the risk is significantly higher. 29.1 million people in the United States have diabetes, and alarmingly almost 28% of people with diabetes are undiagnosed. So you could have diabetes and not even know it, meaning you’re at a higher risk of gum disease already.
Whether you’re diabetic or not, the only thing you can do is take meticulous care of your oral health.
So what can I do?
Your best bet at combatting diabetes-related teeth and gum problems is to practice good oral hygiene and control your blood sugar levels.
⦁ Keep tabs on your blood sugar levels with prescribed medication and a diet advised by a medical professional.
⦁ Clean dentures meticulously, if you use them.
⦁ Regularly visit your dentist (at least every six months) for regular checkups and deep cleaning.
⦁ Brush twice a day and floss regularly.
⦁ Avoid smoking or keep it at the absolute minimum.
If you’re still thinking: how are diabetes and periodontal disease related? There are plenty of academic articles you can read up on, or you can ask your dentist at your next checkup.
Jack Kennedy is with Corson Dental, a high-tech practice based in Tauranga, NZ, offering general and cosmetic dental procedures and Smile Makeovers. Visit www.corsondental.co.nz for more information.