Did you know that 29.1 people living in the USA have diabetes. Maintaining a healthy mouth is essential for everyone, but presents a bigger challenge for those suffering from diabetes. If you have diabetes and you are over 50, your risk is even higher.
The link between diabetes and oral health problems is high blood sugar. If blood sugar is poorly controlled, oral health problems are more likely to develop. By managing your diabetes, you manage more than your blood sugar. You are also helping to prevent gum disease and other infections in your mouth.
How diabetes takes its toll on oral health
High blood sugar can weaken white blood cells, which is your body’s main way to fight infections that can occur in the mouth. Diabetes also affects your mouth by changing your saliva, the fluid that keeps your mouth wet. Saliva helps prevent tooth decay by washing away pieces of food and preventing bacteria from growing. Saliva also has minerals that help protect tissues in your mouth and fight tooth decay.
If the sugar level is high in your blood, it’s high in your saliva too. High levels of glucose in your blood can also cause glucose to build in your saliva. This glucose combines with food to form a soft, sticky film called plaque, which causes bacteria. Some of this bacteria can cause tooth decay, cavities and gum disease. If the tooth isn’t treated in time, it can lead to tooth loss.
Most common oral health problems linked to diabetes
Gum disease, also called periodontal disease, is the most common and serious mouth problem. People with diabetes have a higher chance of developing this infection of the gum and bone, which holds the teeth in place.
Gum disease can lead to pain, bad breath that doesn’t go away, chewing difficulties and even tooth loss. Untreated, the disease advances in stages from inflamed gums, to tooth loss. High levels of blood glucose increases the probability that gum disease will progress from mild to severe. Poorly managed diabetes can also interfere with treatment of periodontal disease by slowing down healing.
Treating gum disease may help lower your blood sugar over time. Your dentist may do a deep cleaning of the mouth or refer you to a periodontist for gum surgery. He may also prescribe a special mouth rinse.
Uncontrolled diabetes slows down saliva. Without saliva to keep your mouth moist and bathe your teeth, diabetics may develop soreness and ulcer infections. Risk of tooth decay, gum disease and thrush increases.
Strategies to help decrease the feelings of dry mouth include
- Lip balm
- Sugar free gum or sugar free hard candy to boost saliva production
- Sip water throughout the day
- Use a humidifier at night
People with diabetes who frequently take antibiotics to fight various infections are especially prone to developing a fungal infection in the mouth and tongue. The fungus thrives on high glucose levels in the saliva of people with uncontrolled diabetes. Symptoms of thrush includes painful white or red patches inside your mouth. Your doctor might prescribe an anti-fungal medication for treatment.
Your mouth naturally contains many types of bacteria. When starches and sugars in food foods and beverages interact with these bacteria, plaque forms on your teeth. The higher your blood sugar level, the greater the supply of sugars and starches, which leads to even more acid wearing away at teeth.
Failure of dental implants
Patients with uncontrolled diabetes have higher rates of post-op infection and implant failure. Post operative healing may be slow or poor, meaning that the implants don’t fuse with the tissues of the mouth. In such cases, the implants are not able to support the dental appliances.
Prevention requires teamwork
- A combination of self-care and professional care will protect your smile as well as potentially slow diabetes’s progress.
- If you have diabetes, take time to check your mouth regularly for any problems. Sometimes people notice that their gums appear swollen and bleed when they brush and floss. Others notice dryness, soreness, white patches or a bad taste in the mouth. These are all good reasons for a trip to the dentist.
- If you smoke, quit! Smoking increases your risk of gum disease and can worsen your diabetes
- Prevent plaque buildup by brushing twice a day with a soft bristled toothbrush and flossing between your teeth daily.
- Patients with diabetes may need to see a dentist more often. Ask your dentist to determine how often you require a checkup.
- Teamwork also means letting your dentist know that you have diabetes and what medicines you take. Tell them if your blood sugar level is off-track and if you take insulin, as well as letting them know when you took your most recent dose.
Check your mouth and teeth regularly for:
- Bleeding, red or swollen gums
- Receding gums
- Infection between your gums and teeth
- Lingering bad breath or taste
- Discomfort of difference in how your teeth feel when you bite down