What to know about diabetes and your dental health

September 1, 2014

If you're diabetic, you most likely know that high blood sugar levels can make you more prone to infections and other complications. For one, diabetics are more susceptible to conditions such as periodontal (gum) disease because they lack the ability to fight off the bacteria. It's important for diabetics to understand how diabetes affects their overall dental health, and actively work to prevent disease and decay. Here's what you should know.

What to know about diabetes and your dental health

What is periodontal disease?

Bacteria in your mouth is the culprit of periodontal disease. The bacteria forms a sticky film on your teeth called plaque. When not brushed and flossed off of your teeth and gum line, acids from the bacteria irritate your gum tissue, leading to red, swollen and bleeding gums. This initial stage of gum disease is called gingivitis, and if left untreated, can turn into periodontitis. Be aware that periodontitis is sneaky and progresses slowly —eventually will destroy the bone and supporting structures of your teeth, causing tooth loss.

The link between gum disease and diabetes

This may not sound like good news, but as a diabetic, you are more prone to developing gum disease, and if you already have periodontal disease, it may become more severe and progress faster. In addition, when left untreated, your gum disease can cause your blood sugar levels to rise and your diabetes to worsen. But there is good news, too: your blood sugar levels will improve once you treat your gum disease, and if you control your glucose levels, your gums will be healthier, too.

Tooth decay

Have you been struggling with a mouth that is as dry as the Sahara? This is a common complaint for many diabetics, since they often have a lack of saliva due to medications, aging or complications of the diabetes. Besides a cotton mouth feeling, without sufficient saliva to wash harmful bacteria and acids off your teeth, these acids can destroy tooth enamel and any exposed root surfaces.

Preventing dental health problems

Even existing diabetics can prevent tooth decay and gum disease.

  • Brush your teeth thoroughly twice a day with a soft-bristle brush and fluoride toothpaste.
  • Floss daily.
  • Replace your toothbrush every three to four months as they can harbour bacteria.
  • Rinse with an antimicrobial mouthwash.
  • Use a saliva substitute, sip water frequently, chew sugarless gum and suck on sugar-free lozenges to help relieve dry mouth.
  • Visit your dentist regularly for checkups and professional cleanings.
  • Keep your dentist updated on your glucose levels and medications.
  • Eat high-fibre and nutrient-rich foods, and avoid sugary and high-carbohydrate foods and drinks.
  • Control your blood sugar levels.

Treating diabetes and maintaining good dental health is always a team effort. You, your doctor and your dentist can work together on a plan to keep your diabetes under control and your mouth healthy.

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