Maintaining good oral health is important for reasons beyond what goes on in the mouth itself.
Your oral health may be compromised by your overall health – stress, for example, can lead to a series of oral health complications.
Is this also true of diabetes?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes
- Diabetes can lead to mouth and oral health problems.
- Oral health problems are also a risk factor that can make diabetes harder to control.
Unchecked, both conditions could continue to make the other worse with ultimately damaging, potentially fatal, consequences given diabetes’ link with heart disease and strokes.
High levels of sugar and starch interact with naturally occurring bacteria in the mouth to create plaque (a sticky film that attaches itself to teeth and the acids in this plaque attack the surface of teeth, potentially leading to cavities and gum disease.
Given that diabetes leads to periods where the blood sugar level is raised, the supply of sugar and starch to the bacteria in the mouth is increased.
The more plaque created, the more damage done.
Oral health problems are also often the result of dry mouth (xerostomia). In many cases, someone with diabetes has a relative lack of saliva and salvia the risk of a range of dental/oral conditions is increased.
Oral problems such as periodontitis (serious gum disease), which is three times more likely among those with diabetes, has a high chance of further raising blood sugar levels, making diabetes harder to control.
Gum disease (periodontitis)
The build-up of plaque can lead to issues ranging from Gingivitis, which is problematic but relatively easy to treat through to more aggressive gum disease, also known as periodontitis.
Gingivitis is caused when the plaque persists on the tooth surface, over time this irritates the gums and they become swollen and bleed easily. Bad breath is also a common side effect.
As unpleasant as gingivitis might be, it is not a condition that does long term damage by itself and is fairly easy to treat – the removal of the tartar by a dental hygienist the only treatment required.
However, gingivitis can progress into periodontitis, that leads to the erosion of tissue and bone and can make teeth become mobile and eventually you can be at risk of loosing teeth.
It is also a condition that requires specialist treatment from the hygienist or even a gum specialist.
Much of the advice for a person with diabetes is the same as for anyone and it starts with a good oral hygiene routine.
Your teeth should be brushed twice a day and electric toothbrushes are recommended – also don’t forget to floss or use inter dental brushes.
The food you eat also has an impact on your dental health, cutting down on high sugary/acidic foods and drinks can help reduce problems.
Quitting smoking or at least cutting down on smoking can help promote good oral health. the risk of contracting gum disease is many times higher for anyone who smokes, which is also true for mouth cancer.
Advice more specifically aimed at those with diabetes would be to always mention the condition when seeing your dentist and hygienist. Given the heightened risk of contracting gum disease and then the circular impact this will have on the diabetes, it is essential that the health of your gums is monitored and tracked over time to stay on top of any issues at the earliest stage.