While most diabetics are aware that they are at higher risk for heart disease, stroke, eye, and kidney issues, many don’t realize that having diabetes also makes them more vulnerable to a number of oral health issues. In fact, according to experts at the Cleveland Clinic, people with diabetes face a higher than normal risk of oral health problems because uncontrolled diabetes weakens white blood cells, which are the body’s main defense against bacterial infections that can occur in the mouth.1
Gum disease, or periodontitis, is one of the top oral health issues for diabetics.2
In the early stage, called gingivitis, bacteria in plaque on the teeth build up and cause gums to become inflamed. Areas which are inflamed will bleed when you brush or floss your teeth. This is an important first warning sign which those with diabetes should not ignore.
What kind of oral damage?
Controlling blood sugar, along with proper brushing with fluoride toothpaste for a minimum of two minutes at least twice a day, flossing daily, and regular dental cleanings can prevent further damage. However, if left untreated, gingivitis can lead to periodontitis, especially for diabetics. Periodontitis occurs when the gum and bone pull away from the teeth and form pockets into which food and bacteria collect. These pockets can become infected and the bone and connective tissue that hold your teeth in place start to break down. Eventually, this will cause tooth loss.
How does diabetes affect periodontal disease?
Periodontal disease affects nearly 22 percent of diabetics or about 1 out of every 4.3 Unfortunately, if you have periodontitis, as with any infection, the infection may cause your blood sugar to rise, making it harder for you to control your diabetes. Diabetics don’t heal as quickly as those without diabetes, so that is also a complicating factor in gum disease. That is why it is so important to keep your teeth and gums healthy.
Tooth loss, due to periodontitis, is another real threat to those with diabetes. A nationwide study tracking 37,000+ adults over a 41 year span found that the average number of missing teeth was 6.6 for those with diabetes, compared with 3.4 for those without, and the proportion of people who had at least 21 of their original teeth was 87 percent for those without diabetes, but only 69 percent among those with diabetes.4
Signs of an oral infection
Infections in the mouth are also a common problem for those with diabetes. Warning signs of an infection include pain; swelling; pus around your teeth or gums; sensitivity to hot, cold or sweet foods and beverages; and dark spots or holes in your teeth.5 Fungal infections are also something that afflict diabetics who have high blood sugar levels or those who frequently take antibiotics. Thrush shows up as white, or sometimes red, patches in areas of your mouth, especially under ill-fitting dentures. These patches can get sore and turn into ulcers. See a dentist or physician immediately if you suspect that you may have thrush.
Other oral conditions affected by diabetes
While perhaps not as serious as gum disease, tooth loss or infections, dry mouth is another oral health condition that afflicts those with diabetes. Studies have found that people with diabetes have less saliva.6 Drinking water, chewing crunchy foods to get saliva flowing, and chewing sugarless gum are all good ways to alleviate this problem. Since saliva is what washes away food particles, keeping your mouth moist will also help prevent cavities.
Make sure that your dental health team is aware that you have diabetes and enlist their help and advice in keeping your teeth, and your blood sugar levels, in check. Also, make sure that you pump up your fiber intake. Research suggests that just as it does in the heart, a high-fiber diet may reduce inflammation to protect the gums.7
Achieving and maintaining long term dental health is our goal at our Walled Lake Dental Office. We pride ourselves in educating and offering a personalized experience which includes a full range of dental services. We offer the latest technology in modern dentistry, including a comprehensive list of general, restorative and cosmetic dental care services to meet the needs of your entire family. Call us today to learn more!
1 Oral Health Problems and Diabetes, Cleveland Clinic.org
2, 5 More on the Mouth, American Diabetes Association
3 Diabetes and Your Smile, Laura Martin, American Dental Association
4 Tooth Loss Higher for People with Diabetes, Miriam E. Tucker, March 2016
6 5 Ways Diabetes Can Affect Your Mouth, American Dental Association
7 High-Fiber Diets Can Help Prevent Gum Disease, Miriam E. Tucker, February 2017