Diabetes mellitus—which is commonly referred to as just diabetes—is a group of health disorders in which people experience high blood sugar levels for prolonged periods. There are three core types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2, and gestational. Type 1 diabetes is the result of an autoimmune response that causes the loss of pancreatic cells that create insulin, and so the patient does not have enough. Type 2 diabetes is characterized by a resistance to insulin. That resistance can heighten over time, and patients can eventually suffer from reduced insulin production. Gestational diabetes is a short-term glucose intolerance specific to pregnant women and can interfere with the pregnancy if untreated.
Diabetes and Your Oral Health
Blood sugar levels that are too high can damage your heart, kidneys, eyes, and nerves but also your oral health. Diabetics are more prone to gum disease, and about 20 percent of all instances of tooth loss are related to diabetes. According to the American Dental Association, about 22 percent of people diagnosed with diabetes will already have gum disease, which often complicates the diabetes.
How Diabetes Shapes Tooth and Gum Health
Your mouth is home to many bacteria, and that bacteria feeds on simple carbohydrates, such as from sugars and starches. A healthy person can maintain a balance through good oral hygiene. A diabetic will have even more starches and sugars in the mouth due to the high blood sugar levels. This makes bacterial growth more difficult to control. Plaque accumulates faster and more abundantly, and plaque is the direct cause of gum disease and the leading cause of tooth decay.
Science has long recognized that diabetes increases the risk of gum disease. Diabetics are three times more likely to develop gum disease, and diabetic smokers are 20 times more likely to develop the disease. More modern research has demonstrated that periodontitis—advanced gum disease—may lead to diabetes as well. Gum disease is the inflammatory response to an infection, and any infection has the potential to increase blood sugar levels. Over a prolonged period, this could lead to diabetes.
Reduced Saliva Production and Oral Healing
Gum disease is not the only oral health issue associated with diabetes. Xerostomia—or dry mouth—is a common side effect of diabetes as well. Saliva is an important component of your immune system and also responsible for cleaning food particles, bacteria, and acids from the mouth. When there is not enough saliva, more bacteria accumulate, which heightens the risk of both tooth decay and gum disease.
Diabetics are also prone to inhibited oral healing. Canker sores, for instance, can linger far longer in the mouth of a diabetic than they generally do in otherwise healthy people. If you require dental surgery, diabetes can slow the recovery period and present other complications that your dentist must navigate.
Avoiding Health Complications
Many people do not realize that dentists are often integral in the early diagnosis of diabetes. Such screening is another excellent reason to see your dentist twice a year, regardless of how you feel.
If you have diabetes, the foundation for good health is a balanced diet, regular exercise, and consistent monitoring of your blood glucose levels. It is also imperative that you see a dentist on a regular basis and that you discuss with them your oral health within the context of your diabetes. Be mindful that while the standard advice is biannual dental visits, your dentist may recommend a more frequent schedule.
It is also essential that you take care of your teeth at home. Brush your teeth twice a day for two to three minutes at a time. Whenever you brush, floss and scrape your tongue. You can use a therapeutic oral rinse up to two times a day in order to help control bacteria in your mouth, and you should discuss with your dentist mouthwashes and other oral care products that may help protect your gums and teeth.
Of course, avoid smoking. It goes without saying that even occasional tobacco use is terrible for oral health, and it is even more problematic for diabetics due to the ways that it complicates the disease.
Manage Your Diabetes and Protect Your Oral Health
Regular dental visits are important not just for teeth and gum health but for early diagnosis of diabetes and other health complications. If you already have diabetes, then regular checkups and cleanings are even more important for you to avoid that nasty cycle that can occur with diabetes and gum disease. Jeffrey D. Clark, DDS, is a leading dentist in Arizona who has significant experience identifying the early indications of diabetes and helping his diabetic patients improve and maintain their oral health. Call Scottsdale Dental Excellence at 480 585 1853 to schedule your appointment.