The Connection Between Oral Health and Diabetes
If there is a problem with your gum health, your mouth will reveal it. Bleeding gums, missing teeth, gum recession, and bad breath indicate the presence of gum disease. Individuals with diabetes face a higher risk of developing gingivitis and periodontitis (an advanced form of gum disease).
The genesis of both conditions can be traced back to plaque, a soft and sticky substance that accumulates on teeth after consuming food. Plaque primarily consists of bacteria, with hundreds of different types of these microorganisms present in your mouth. While some of these bacteria are beneficial for oral health, others can be harmful.
The presence of bacteria in the mouth of a diabetic patient does not differ significantly from someone without the condition. The distinction lies in the character and severity of the body's inflammatory response to these harmful bacteria. Individuals with diabetes, particularly those struggling to meet their blood sugar targets, experience a heightened inflammatory response. Consequently, the supporting tissues around the teeth may be compromised, leading to tooth instability and potential extraction.
Why are Diabetic Patients More Prone to Oral Health Issues?
Among people living with diabetes, the risk of periodontal disease is about three times higher than those without this condition. Poor blood sugar control amplifies the risk of gum issues, particularly as a person ages. This can result in a vicious cycle, as severe gum disease can elevate blood sugar levels, making diabetes management more challenging and increasing vulnerability to infections.
Uncontrolled diabetes weakens the body's white blood cells, which are the primary defense against bacterial infections that can manifest in the mouth. Similar to studies demonstrating that regulating blood sugar levels lowers the risk of major organ complications associated with diabetes, proper diabetes management can safeguard against oral health problems.
Diabetes and the Health of Teeth and Gums
If you have diabetes, it becomes vital to prioritize oral health and dental care while maintaining your blood glucose levels within the target range. Regular dental examinations and cleanings every six months are necessary.
The mouth often provides the first indicators and symptoms of diabetes, highlighting the importance of paying attention to oral health and promptly consulting your doctor or dental practitioner regarding any changes. This vigilance can potentially lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment.
The most prevalent oral health problems encountered by individuals with diabetes include:
- Gum disease
- Tooth decay
- Fungal infections
- Gum abscesses
- Lichen planus (an autoimmune inflammatory skin condition)
- Mouth ulcers
- Burning mouth sensation
- Dry mouth
- Taste problems
Diabetes and Periodontal Disease
Periodontal disease results from an infection that destroys the bone supporting and surrounding the teeth. This bone serves the purpose of securing teeth in the jawbone and facilitating comfortable chewing. Bacteria and dental plaque, a combination of food debris and bacteria, exacerbate gum disease.
If plaque is not effectively removed from teeth and gums, it hardens into calculus or tartar. The presence of plaque and tartar irritates the gums, causing them to become red, swollen, and prone to bleeding. As gum disease progresses, it affects the underlying bone, which eventually deteriorates. Consequently, teeth become loose and may either fall out or require extraction.
Diabetes and Tooth Decay
Elevated blood glucose levels in individuals with diabetes can lead to higher glucose content in saliva, resulting in dry mouth conditions. Insufficient saliva allows dental plaque to accumulate on teeth, consequently increasing the risk of tooth decay and cavities. Maintaining proper oral hygiene is vital in preventing cavities and gum disease.
Diabetes and aging, particularly in women, can contribute to reduced saliva production. Consequently, individuals are at a heightened risk of developing dry mouth, clinically referred to as xerostomia. Saliva plays a major role in producing enzymes that combat bacteria. Without sufficient saliva, bacteria multiply unchecked. Dry mouth can lead to the formation of sores, ulcers, increased tooth decay, and gum disease.
Burning Mouth Syndrome
Both thrush and dry mouth can result in burning mouth syndrome. Certain medications, including those for diabetes, can also contribute to this condition. In addition to the sensation of scalding the mouth with a hot beverage, individuals may experience tingling or numbness and a loss of taste.
Diabetes and Oral Fungal Infections
Bacteria are not the sole organisms attracted to sugar; fungi are also. Consequently, individuals with diabetes frequently encounter a fungal yeast infection known as thrush. Oral thrush, or candidiasis, is caused by an overgrowth of the yeast Candida albicans, which naturally resides in the mouth.
Diabetes-related conditions, like elevated glucose levels in saliva, reduced resistance to infections, and dry mouth (low saliva levels), create an environment conducive to the proliferation of fungi, leading to oral thrush. Wearing dentures, smoking, and undergoing antibiotic treatment increase the likelihood of developing thrush.
Oral thrush manifests as uncomfortable white or red patches, which may ulcerate on the skin of the mouth. Dentists can prescribe antifungal medications to treat this condition if necessary.
Most tooth and gum diseases can be prevented by following these guidelines:
- Brush your teeth (using a toothbrush with soft bristles) and floss at least twice daily, accompanied by rinsing with an antiseptic mouthwash.
- Wait at least 30 minutes after eating before brushing to safeguard tooth enamel from acids present in food.
- Remove and clean dentures daily if you wear them, avoiding sleeping with them in place.
- Quit smoking if you are a smoker.
Undergo dental checkups every six months or more frequently as recommended by your dentist based on your condition.
Your Dentist Can Help You Manage Diabetes-Related Oral Health Issues
For individuals with diabetes, regular dental visits are needed. Research indicates that treating gum disease can enhance blood sugar control, potentially slowing down the progression of diabetes.
Periodic teeth cleanings at your dentist's office have been shown to reduce HbA1c levels, providing an indication of average blood sugar levels over the previous three months. Consult your dentist regarding the recommended frequency for cleanings and checkups, ensuring dental appointments remain a top priority.
Superior Dental Care for Diabetic Patients is Right Here
A healthy mouth is essential to good health, but with high blood sugar it gets difficult to maintain oral health. With a special focus on dental care for people with diabetes, Dr. Michael Richer and Dr. Nadia Rivera at R+R Dental provide comprehensive oral examinations and perform deep cleanings as necessary to minimize the risk of oral infections and decay.
We also offer proven and advanced treatments for gum disease, periodontal disease, tooth decay, and teeth replacement for persons with diabetes. Call us today at (347) 431-0657 to schedule an appointment, or contact us online.