November is Diabetes Awareness Month and we are helping to spread the word on how uncontrolled diabetes can affect individuals’ teeth and gums. Below are edited notes from the American Dental Association and related research.
Diabetes and Your Smile
Based on article by Laura Martin, Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine
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 turned 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?? If diabetes is left untreated, it can take a toll on your mouth. In fact, one in five cases of total tooth loss is linked to diabetes.
5 Ways Diabetes Can Affect Your Mouth
Notice some bleeding when you brush or floss? That may be an early sign of gum disease. If it becomes more severe, the bone that supports your teeth can break down, leading to tooth loss. Early gum disease can be reversed with proper brushing, flossing and diet. Research has shown gum disease can worsen if your blood sugar is not under control, so do your best to keep it in check.
All people have more tiny bacteria living in their mouth now than there are people on this planet. If they make their home in your gums, you can end up with gum disease. This chronic, inflammatory disease can destroy your gums, all 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% of those diagnosed. Especially with increasing age, poor blood sugar control increases the 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.
Studies have found people with diabetes have less saliva, so you might find yourself feeling parched or extra thirsty. (Medications and higher blood sugar levels are also causes.) Fight dry mouth by drinking water. You can also chew sugarless gum and eat healthy, crunchy foods to get saliva flowing. This is especially important because extra sugar in your saliva, combined with less saliva to wash away leftover food, can lead to cavities
Change in Taste
Your favorite flavors might not taste as rich as your remember if you have diabetes. It can be disappointing, but take the opportunity to experiment with different tastes, textures and spices to your favorite foods. Just take care not to add too much sugar to your food in an effort to add flavor. Not only can this affect the quality of your diet, it can also lead to more cavities. If you have a persistent bad taste in your mouth, see your dentist or doctor.
Diabetes affects your immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to infection. One common among people with diabetes is a yeast infection called oral thrush (candidiasis). The yeast thrive on the higher amount of sugar found in your saliva, and it looks like a white layer coating your tongue and the insides of your cheeks. Thrush is more common in people who wear dentures and can often leave a bad taste in your mouth. See your dentist if you think you have thrush or any other mouth infection.
Have you ever noticed a cold sore or a cut in your mouth that doesn’t quite seem to go away? This can be another way that diabetes may affect your mouth. Poor control of blood sugar can keep injuries from healing quickly and properly. If you have something in your mouth that you feel isn’t healing as it should, see your dentist.
How We Can Help You Fight Diabetes
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.)
Your Diabetes Dental Health Action Plan
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.