Did you know that 29.1 million people living in the United States have diabetes? That’s 9.3% of the population. Approximately 1.7 million new cases are diagnosed each year and 8.1 million people living with diabetes don’t even know they have it. Diabetes affects your body’s ability to process sugar. All food you eat is converted to sugar and used for energy. In Type I diabetes, the body doesn’t make enough insulin, a hormone that carries sugar from your blood to the cells that need it for energy. In Type II diabetes, the body stops responding to insulin. Both cases result in high blood sugar levels, which can cause problems with your eyes, nerves, kidneys, heart and other parts of your body. So, what does this have to do with that smile of yours, and how can you protect it? Patients with Type I or Type II diabetes are at heightened risk of developing tooth decay, fungal infections in the mouth and gum disease. Fortunately, diabetics can take a proactive approach to managing their oral health. First, it’s important to understand the signs of diabetes and the roles they play in your mouth.
What are some symptoms that I might have Diabetes?
The warning signs of diabetes affect every part of your body. After a blood test, you may be told by a doctor that you have high blood sugar. You may feel excessively thirsty or have to urinate a lot. Weight loss and fatigue are other common symptoms. Diabetes can also cause you to lose consciousness if your blood sugar falls too low. If diabetes is left untreated, it can take a toll on your mouth as well. Here’s how:
- You may have less saliva, causing your mouth to feel dry. Diabetics typically produce less saliva, the body’s way of naturally rinsing the mouth than those without diabetes. Diminished saliva production can lead to dry mouth and tooth decay.
- Because saliva protects your teeth, you’re also at a higher risk of cavities.
- Gums may become inflamed and bleed often.
- You may have problems tasting food.
- You may experience delayed wound healing.
- You may be susceptible to infections inside of your mouth.
- For children with diabetes, teeth may erupt at an age earlier than is typical.
Why are diabetics more prone to gum disease?
Everyone has lots of tiny bacteria living in their mouth. If they make their home in your gums, you can end up with periodontal disease. This chronic, inflammatory disease can destroy your gums, the tissues holding your teeth and even your bones. Periodontal disease is the most common dental disease affecting those living with diabetes, affecting nearly 22 percent of those diagnosed. Advanced age or poor blood sugar control puts a person at greater risk for gum problems. In fact, people with diabetes are at a higher risk for gum problems because of poor blood sugar control. As with all infections, serious gum disease may cause blood sugar to rise. This makes diabetes harder to control because you are more susceptible to infections and are less able to fight the bacteria invading the gums. Diabetics also produce less saliva, which naturally rinses some of the bacteria away that causes these infections.
What can your dentist do to help?
Regular dental visits are important. Research suggests that treating gum disease can help improve blood sugar control in patients living with diabetes, decreasing the progression of the disease. Practicing good oral hygiene and having professional deep cleanings done by your dentist can help to lower your HbA1c. (This is a lab test that shows your average level of blood sugar over the previous three months. It indicates how well you are controlling your diabetes.)
What steps can be taken at home to protect my family’s oral health?
While diabetes can affect oral health in different ways, parents can take steps to reduce family members’ risk of developing conditions such as gum disease and tooth decay. One common method for reducing the chances of oral problems associated with diabetes is to control glucose levels with medication and a proper diet low in sugar. The American Dental Association has found that patients with poorly controlled glucose levels are more likely to develop gum disease than those whose glucose levels are controlled. To help members of your family control blood sugar, consider consulting with your family physician on healthy eating practices that benefit patients with diabetes.
In addition to keeping glucose levels under control, practicing good oral hygiene is something that will reduce the bacteria in the mouth that contribute to cavities and gum disease. Family members, especially those with diabetes, should brush their teeth thoroughly at least twice a day, preferably after meals and before bed. Beyond brushing teeth, the gum line and tongue should be brushed as well. Flossing should be done on a daily basis too.
Another important factor in defending your family’s oral health from complications associated with diabetes is regular visits to your dentist. All members of your family should receive a professional dental cleaning and examinations every six months. Discuss your and your family’s overall health, including diagnoses of diabetes or a family history of diabetes with your dentist, who can detect signs of potential problems and offer personalized treatment for your needs.
What is a good plan of action?
Teamwork involving self-care and professional care from your dentist will be beneficial in keeping your healthy smile as well as potentially slowing progression of diabetes. Here are five oral health-related things you can do to for optimal wellness:
- Control your blood sugar levels. Use your diabetes-related medications as directed, changing to a healthier diet and even exercising more can help. Good blood sugar control will also help your body fight any bacterial or fungal infections in your mouth and help relieve dry mouth caused by diabetes.
- Avoid smoking.
- If you wear any type of denture, clean it each day.
- Make sure to brush twice a day with a soft brush and clean between your teeth daily.
- See your dentist for regular checkups.
If you have any questions about diabetes and your oral health, call Winning Smiles to schedule an appointment with your dentist – 716-332-2444.