Diabetes is a serious disease that can affect virtually every part of a person’s body. However, the consequences for oral health may often be ignored or brushed over. If you have Type I or Type II diabetes, you should pay attention to how your condition can impact your mouth. Here is a brief overview of the relationship between diabetes and oral health as well as how you can prevent problems.
How blood sugar levels impact oral health
It might seem implausible, but your blood sugar levels can impact your oral health in unexpected ways. This can be especially concerning for diabetes managing their blood sugar and looking for ways to minimize the impact their health condition has on other areas, such as their dental health.
If you have diabetes and higher blood sugar, you have an increased likelihood of experiencing cavities because of the greater supply of sugars and starches in your body contributing to plaque buildup.1 This may occur because of your diabetes but also from foods and drinks that contain starches and sugars.
Oral conditions diabetes can cause or worsen
1. Increased risk of gum disease
The risk of gum disease is higher for individuals with diabetes because diabetes can weaken the immune system and reduce your body’s ability to fight off harmful bacteria. This bacteria forms plaque which sneaks under your gum line and becomes tartar. In the early stages of gum disease, this results in swollen gums and a tendency to bleed easily.2
If you are diligent with your brushing and flossing, you may be able to reduce the side effects of gum disease. However, this is especially important for people with diabetes since they are already predisposed to it due to their medical condition.3
2. Development of periodontitis
Advanced gum disease, also called periodontitis, can adversely affect the structures that support your teeth, including the soft tissue and bone. With enough time, periodontitis could cause your blood sugar levels to rise and your teeth could eventually fall out.
Since periodontitis is a serious condition, and people with diabetes already have difficulty healing from infections, it is imperative you take care of inflamed gums before advanced gum disease develops.
3. Dry mouth
Diabetes can also lead to dry mouth, also referred to as xerostomia. Saliva keeps harmful germs at bay, and a shortage of it can increase your risk for cavities. This condition can develop as a result of either Type I or Type II diabetes and treating dry mouth before it contributes to tooth decay is important.
You may be able to treat dry mouth with a number of solutions, including drinking more water or using chewing gum and hard candies to increase saliva production.
4. Oral thrush
Thrush, often called oral candidiasis, is a yeast infection that causes white patches, redness, and bleeding in the mouth as well as cracks at the corners of the lips. A bitter, nasty taste may also occur. It is also possible to pass thrush onto someone else, so it is important to treat it so that others avoid experiencing these unfortunate symptoms.4
Thrush may occur if you have difficulties keeping your blood glucose levels under control. Also, thrush may develop along with dry mouth in people who have diabetes, and while occasional episodes of thrush are common, it is better to avoid infection altogether if possible.
5. Burning mouth syndrome
Burning mouth syndrome (BMS) is also a possibility with diabetes, and dry mouth may accompany this condition. The condition is more common in people over the age of 60 and women experience it more frequently than men.5
As the name implies, this condition involves a burning, tingling, or otherwise painful sensation in the mouth. Diagnosing BMS may involve a referral from a dentist or doctor. The specialist, such as one that is experienced in oral medicine or oral surgery, may examine your mouth and medical history but other tests may be necessary such as:
- Blood tests
- Oral swabs
- Allergy tests
- Salivary flow tests
The specialist may also order a tissue biopsy and imaging tests as well to confirm the diagnosis and recommend treatment.
6. Bad breath
It is important to take an active role in your healthcare, especially if you have a condition like diabetes that can contribute to or negatively impact other areas of your life.
How to prevent diabetes-related oral problems
The best thing you can do to prevent oral problems related to your diabetes is to do your best to control your disease. With your doctor’s help, you can take some of the following steps to improve your health outcomes and control your diabetes. Steps you can take may include:6
- Eating a healthy diet
- Getting regular exercise
- Taking the medications your physician prescribes
- Checking your blood sugar levels as instructed by your doctor
How a dentist can help with diabetes and dental health
You should also make regular visits to your dentist. A good cleaning twice a year can get rid of plaque and tartar buildup. Let your dentist know you have diabetes so he or she can look for the early signs of oral conditions commonly related to the disease. If you smoke, for instance, and also diabetes, your dentist may recommend you stop smoking not only for your oral health, but overall health, as the effects of diabetes are compounded when combined with using tobacco.
Between visits to your dentist, be diligent about brushing and flossing your teeth twice a day. If you suffer from dry mouth, a medicated mouthwash may also be a good thing to add to your hygiene routine.
Diabetes doesn’t have to control your life or damage your smile if you don’t let it. Know what the risks are and work with your doctor and dentist to keep your mouth in its best possible condition.
If you have been putting off dental checkups, now is the time to find a dentist to help you take control of your oral health. If you have concerns about your current dental insurance coverage, it is important to review your policy.
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Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice. This is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.