If you have diabetes, whether Type I or Type II, carefully managing your diabetes is key to your overall well-being. This includes your oral health. Paying close attention to oral health and hygiene is essential no matter what. Still, people with diabetes are at higher risk for some oral health conditions and should therefore be especially diligent. Diabetes and dental care should always go hand in hand.
Can diabetes lead to oral health problems?
Diabetes can lead to a variety of complications throughout the body, and oral health issues are not excluded from this list. Oral health problems with diabetes can develop if the appropriate preventative steps are not taken. There are several issues that may arise with poorly controlled diabetes, including the following:
Gingivitis & Periodontitis
Diabetes and gum disease have an unfortunate association. Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums that surround your teeth base and is considered an early stage of gum disease. If gingivitis is left untreated and is allowed to advance, it may eventually turn into periodontitis and sores in the mouth. While gingivitis is a treatable condition, periodontitis is not. Everyone is susceptible to these conditions, but diabetics are at higher risk due to their reduced capacity for fighting infections. This susceptibility also leads to the relationship between diabetes and tooth decay.
Thrush is a fungal infection that can develop in the mouth and surrounding tissues. As mentioned previously, diabetes reduces the body’s ability to effectively fight off infections, leaving diabetic individuals more prone to developing thrush and having a harder time getting rid of it.
While dry mouth can happen to anyone, it is widespread in diabetic patients. Diabetes can impair the production of saliva in the mouth, leaving diabetics more prone to dry mouth. This relationship between diabetes and dry mouth can also lead to the development of cavities and infections.
Delayed wound healing
Diabetes can lead to the weakening of the immune system and the thickening of blood vessels. Both of these factors combined contribute to a higher likelihood of contracting a disease and a delayed healing process once an infection sets in. If the healing process is impaired in this way and infections are allowed to fester, an association between diabetes and tooth extraction as well as diabetes and tooth loss begins to develop.
How to prevent oral health problems with diabetes?
While diabetes can make individuals more prone to certain oral health conditions, they are mostly preventable issues. The first step in keeping any sort of diabetes-related health issue under control is keeping diabetes well-controlled. This means maintaining a diabetic-friendly diet, regularly checking blood sugar levels, and being sure to schedule regular doctor’s visits to adjust medications as needed. If blood sugar levels begin to fluctuate out of the normal range too often, the adverse effects will be felt throughout the entire body. One common measure of glucose levels in the blood is hemoglobin A1c or hba1c. If you’re wondering, “what is hb1c”, it is a measure of glycated hemoglobin and tells you your average blood sugar level over the past 2-3 months.
Aside from this, practicing good oral hygiene will help to fend off a variety of problems that could crop up. Many of the oral health issues that people with diabetes are prone to getting are caused by some sort of initial infection, and keeping up with regular teeth brushing, flossing, and dental checkups can help prevent infections from setting in. To maintain proper oral hygiene and keep your teeth and surrounding tissues healthy, you should brush your teeth twice per day and floss once per day. If you feel like you may have the beginnings of something like thrush or gingivitis, seeing your dentist or doctor as soon as possible to treat it can keep it from escalating into a more severe problem. Once infections really get the chance to set in, diabetes will keep your immune system from functioning at its full capacity and make it harder to heal.
One last thing you can do to avoid oral health problems with diabetes (and protect your overall health!) is avoiding smoking. Smoking increases your risk of countless health problems, including but not limited to lung cancer, mouth cancer, and gum disease.
Common misconceptions about diabetes and dental health
Although there are some dental issues that diabetics are more likely to develop, there are several misconceptions about having diabetes and what that means for dental health.
Diabetes & Cavities
Having diabetes doesn’t mean that you are doomed to have cavities more frequently than everyone else. Although there is the potential that the high glucose levels found in the saliva of people with diabetes can allow bacteria to proliferate in the mouth, sticking with a regular dental hygiene routine can prevent these bacteria from actually causing cavities or an infection of the surrounding tissues. As discussed above, you should plan to brush your teeth twice per day and be sure to floss at least once per day. In addition to this, you should make sure that you wait at least 30 minutes after eating and drinking (drinking something other than water) before brushing your teeth. Why wait? When you eat or drink something other than plain water, the pH in your mouth has a tendency to become more acidic and soften the enamel of your teeth, which could cause damage if you brush them at that time. If you wait, however, the enamel on your teeth will re-harden, and you will be less likely to cause damage to your teeth via brushing.
Diabetes and Teeth Loss
Nobody wants to experience root decay or tooth loss. While there are a variety of factors that play into the relationship between diabetes and tooth decay (and tooth loss), one of the primary culprits is uncontrolled gingivitis and the development of more severe periodontal disease. And while diabetics may be more prone to developing severe infections of the gums and root cavities if left to spread, these infections can usually be prevented in the first place. Although there are those who will say that people with diabetes tend to lose their teeth more frequently than the rest of the population, this does not have to be the case. By practicing good oral hygiene and visiting a dentist regularly, minor infections will not have the chance to develop further and spread into the tissues in the mouth that keep the teeth in place.
A Final Word
The major takeaway from this about the relationship between diabetes and oral health is that diabetes does not have to impact oral health and well-being negatively. While it is true that high blood sugar levels found in individuals with uncontrolled diabetes can have an adverse impact on the immune system, healing, and oral health, keeping diabetes in check and maintaining good dental hygiene practices can prevent many oral health issues from occurring down the road.