Diabetes is a metabolic disease that results in high blood sugar levels. If you have diabetes, you are susceptible to a number of related conditions, including an increased risk of oral health problems. Understanding this increased risk can help you stave off oral disease and keep your teeth healthy.
Common Conditions among Patients with Diabetes
One of the most common oral complications found in patients with diabetes is gum disease. There are two types of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontitis. Gingivitis is the inflammation of gum tissue. As the disease progresses it can cause the gums to bleed, appear red and puffy and become painful or tender. The gums pull away from the teeth, creating pockets where plaque and bacteria accumulate. If your gums bleed when you gently brush them with a soft toothbrush, you may have gingivitis.
When gingivitis is left untreated, it develops into periodontitis. At this stage, the infection causes damage to the jawbone and ligaments that support the teeth, making them loose. The gum tissue further recedes, leading to exposed nerve endings that can make the teeth very sensitive. If you have loose teeth that are extremely sensitive, you may be suffering from periodontitis.
There are several reasons why a person with diabetes has an increased risk of gum disease. If you are diabetic, your saliva may contain increased amounts of sugar. This extra sugar makes it easier for bacteria to thrive inside your mouth. When your diabetes is poorly controlled, you are even more susceptible to these bacteria, because you heal more slowly. People with diabetes are also prone to dry mouth. Dry mouth can irritate the gums. The lack of saliva to wash away bacteria allows them to set into the irritated gum tissue, promoting further gum disease.
Thrush is a fungal infection common in people with diabetes. It presents as white sores on the mouth and tongue. Underneath the white patches, you see red tissue that bleeds easily. People with diabetes are more susceptible to thrust because they frequently take antibiotics. Your mouth maintains a natural balance of bacteria and fungus. If antibiotics kill too many bacteria, the fungus is able multiply more easily, leading to fungal infection. High blood sugar also contributes to the spread of thrush, because the fungi feed off of the extra sugar.
The presence of high levels of sugar in the saliva can also promote tooth decay. The bacteria in the mouth turn sugar into acid. The increased acidity damages the enamel that protects your teeth from decay. The presence of gum disease exacerbates this problem, as pockets between the gums and teeth house more plaque and bacteria. Tooth decay that is left untreated causes significant pain and can even lead to oral abscesses.
Preventing Oral Health Issues
Control Your Diabetes
All of these conditions are most common in individuals with uncontrolled diabetes. If sugar levels are kept in check, you are less likely to have oral health problems. Follow all of your doctor’s orders. Take medications as prescribed. Avoid sugary foods and simple carbohydrates that can raise your blood sugar levels. Drink plenty of water to combat dry mouth.
Practice Good Oral Hygiene
Everyone needs to practice good oral hygiene, but if you have diabetes, the increased risk for oral disease makes it especially important.
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day.
- Brush your teeth after any meals.
- Avoid smoking.
- Avoid acidic foods and beverages, like coffee.
- If you do smoke or drink coffee, brush your teeth immediately afterwards.
- Floss every day.
- Visit your dentist at least twice a year for regular cleanings.
- Use a mouthwash recommended by your dentist.
- If you wear dentures, take them out and clean them every day.
- If you notice any problems, make an appointment to see your dentist as soon as possible.
Just because you are diabetic doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to suffering from oral health issues and losing your teeth. Take precautions to prevent illness; and, know the signs of illness so that you can get help before it is too late.