Did you know that over 30 million people in the United States are currently diagnosed with diabetes? It is estimated one-third of adults in the United States may not even know they have diabetes. As the numbers rise in our country, awareness is vital to the prevention and management of this disease. November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, and we would like to join dentists across the country in spreading vital information about how diabetes can affect your oral health.
Diabetes is a serious medical condition that can affect your entire body. However, often the consequences for your oral health may be brushed over. Research suggests that the link between diabetes and oral health may stem from your blood sugar levels. Patients with uncontrolled diabetes could have higher blood sugar levels, and as such, be at an increased risk of developing certain oral health conditions. This month, we want to raise awareness about the conditions that may be affected by diabetes and how you can take charge of your oral health in preventing these conditions.
Your mouth naturally contains many types of bacteria. Some are harmful and some are good. When you eat or drink, the starches and sugars from your meals interact with bacteria and form a sticky film known as plaque on your teeth. The acid produced by plaque eats at the surface of your teeth and, if not brushed or flossed away, can weaken your enamel and lead to tooth decay.
If you have high blood sugar levels, the higher glucose levels in your body may add to the supply of sugar and starches in your mouth, producing more acid and leading to an increased risk of cavities and tooth decay.
Studies show that some patients with diabetes may produce less saliva making them prone to developing dry mouth. Salvia helps fight off harmful bacteria from your teeth. With less saliva, dry mouth may lead to an increased risk of sores, ulcers, tooth decay, and gum disease. Medication used to regulate blood sugars may also cause dry mouth.
Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is a condition where bacterial growth within the mouth results in an infection of the surrounding and supporting soft tissue and bones of the mouth. The first stage of gum disease is called gingivitis. The buildup of bacteria turns into plaque and irritates the gums causing them to become swollen, red, and recede. Patients may also note some bleeding when brushing or flossing.
Gum disease is often caused by plaque buildup and though there is no difference in buildup between those with diabetes and those without, diabetic patients are more susceptible to infections thus increasing their risk of developing gum disease. Additionally, as stated above, gum disease can lead to an elevation in blood sugar levels that may cause complications for diabetic patients. High blood sugar levels can also encourage plaque buildup furthering the development of gum disease and making it harder for patients to control their blood sugar levels and gum disease.
Periodontitis is a more advanced stage of gum disease and is the result of gingivitis being left untreated. During this stage, the inner layers of gum and bone have receded from the teeth and formed pockets. These pockets allow for food and bacteria to grow inside leading to further infection. Common symptoms of periodontitis include sensitive teeth, receding gums, the shifting or loss of teeth, and bad breath. If left untreated, the infection can further spread into the supporting soft tissues and bone in the mouth and jaw area. Periodontitis requires professional treatment and possible surgical options.
As mentioned previously, diabetic patients are more likely to develop infections. Bacteria aren’t the only organisms in the mouth that can be harmful. Fungal yeast infections such as thrush are also common in patients with uncontrolled diabetes. Thrush can cause painful white or red patches on the tongue or inside of your mouth that may open into sores. This condition is also common in patients with oral appliances such as dentures.
How To Lower Your Risk
We will work with you and your healthcare team to ensure that your smile remains healthy and beautiful. The best thing you can do to prevent these oral health problems is to practice good oral hygiene. With the help of your dentist and doctor you can take the following steps to improve your health and control of diabetes:
1. Commit to managing your diabetes. Monitor your blood sugar levels and follow your healthcare team’s instructions to keep your levels within the target range. The better control you have of diabetes and your blood sugar, the more you can reduce your risk of developing these oral health conditions.
2. Brush your teeth at least twice a day for two minutes in the morning and night. If possible, brush after meals and snacks as well. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush in a gentle circular motion on your teeth and gum line. Remember to replace your toothbrush every three months. Floss your teeth once a day as it helps to remove leftover food and plaque from between your teeth and under your gum lines.
3. Visit your dentist at least twice a year for professional cleanings, x-rays, and examinations. Make sure you inform your dentist if you have diabetes and remind him or her at every appointment. Share your doctor’s information with your dentist and report any early signs of gum disease, pain, loose teeth, or other unusual symptoms.
Though managing diabetes is a lifelong commitment, diabetes doesn’t have to control your life or smile. Understanding the risk and knowing how to prevent these conditions is a great step towards keeping your smile happy and healthy. For more information on how diabetes can affect your oral health or to schedule an appointment, contact Heather J. Cadorette, DDS today.