Today in Canada, more than 5.7 million people are living with diabetes. Diabetes is a disease that can affect all aspects of the body, including the mouth. Those who are living with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing oral health problems. It is important to understand how diabetes affects the teeth, mouth, and gums and what you can do to best support your oral health.
Why Are People with Diabetes at a Higher Risk of Oral Health Problems?
The primary connection between diabetes and oral health issues is high blood sugar. When one’s blood sugar isn’t properly controlled, oral health problems become much more likely to develop. Because undamaged diabetes affects the white blood cells in the body, the body’s main defense against bacterial infections in the mouth is weakened as a result.
Research has shown that controlling blood sugar levels in someone who is diabetic significantly reduces the risk of major complications within the organs, especially eye, heart, and nerve damage. In the same way, well-controlled blood sugar can also reduce the risk of developing oral health problems.
What Oral Health Problems are Associated with Diabetes?
Individuals with diabetes have a higher risk of developing:
Dry mouth: When diabetes is uncontrolled, the flow of saliva can be decreased, resulting in persistent dry mouth. Dry mouth can progress to such conditions as pain or soreness in the mouth, infections, ulcers, and tooth decay.
Gum Inflammation and Periodontitis: Diabetes can cause thickening of the blood vessels. This in turn can slow the flow of nutrients to tissues within the body, as well as slow the flow of waste products away from body tissues, including the tissues within the mouth. When this combination of events occurs, the body’s ability to fight infections is affected. Because periodontal disease is a bacterial infection, those with uncontrolled diabetes may experience more frequent and severe instances of gum disease.
Poor Healing of Oral Tissues: Uncontrolled diabetes can also affect an individual’s ability to heal from wounds, after surgery, or following other dental procedures. This is because blood flow is often reduced or damaged at the site.
Thrush: Some individuals with diabetes must take antibiotics frequently to fight various infections. This causes them to be especially prone to developing a fungal infection of the mouth and tongue known as oral thrush. This type of fungus thrives on the high glucose levels in the saliva of those with poorly controlled diabetes.
How Can People with Diabetes Prevent Oral Health Problems?
Because those with diabetes are more vulnerable to conditions that might negatively affect their oral health, it’s essential that they follow good oral hygiene practices, pay close attention to any changes in their oral health, and call their dentist immediately if changes occur or they are experiencing any pain or discomfort. Some of the best ways to prevent or reduce oral health problems are:
Maintain your Blood Sugar: The most important thing someone with diabetes can do to support their health, including their oral health is to regulate their blood sugar as well as possible. Make sure to inform your dentist of the status of your diabetes and stay on top of your insulin dosages and timings.
Inform your Doctor: It is always a good idea to see your doctor before you schedule treatment for periodontal disease. You can also ask your doctor to communicate with your dentist or periodontist about your overall health condition. Dentists and doctors often work together to establish the best course of treatment for the patient, especially when other health conditions are a factor.
Inform your Dentist About Medications: Bringing your dentist a list of all the names and dosages of all medications you are taking is a great idea. This information is vitally important for your dentist to know so they can prescribe medications that are least likely to interfere with what you are already taking. If a significant infection is being treated, you may need to adjust your insulin dose.
Oral Health Tips for Individuals with Diabetes
- Ensure you see your dentist twice annually to have your teeth and gums cleaned and checked. Talk to your dentist to determine how often you should be seen for checkups.
- Establish a strong oral health practice including brushing twice a day and flossing daily.
- Quit Smoking! If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to quit. Smoking can have serious effects on oral health.
- Talk to your dentist about your condition. Your dentist is there to support you and help you achieve the best and healthiest smile possible. They will be more than happy to advise you on how to best care for your oral health and how they can support you.
If you want to learn more about caring for your oral health while living with diabetes or have questions for our team about how we can best support you, don’t hesitate to contact our Guelph dentist’s office today!