Sweet Tooth: The Link Between Diabetes and Oral Health.
Improperly managed diabetes invites a host of health complications whose effects reverberate throughout the body, and the oral cavity is one of them. In fact, periodontal disease is the 6th leading diabetes complication worldwide. This is particularly concerning because inflammation caused by periodontal disease, or periodontitis, can lead to persistently swollen and bleeding gums, and even tooth loss. Here we examine the link between diabetes and oral health, and what you can do to maintain it:
A Two-Way Street
A weakened immune system due to diabetes makes the body, including the teeth and gums, more prone to infections as compared to someone without diabetes; and poorly controlled blood sugar further weakens the white blood cells responsible for defending against invading bacteria. Moreover, the decelerated healing due to diabetes can also interfere with periodontitis treatment if and when it occurs.
Conversely, A periodontitis infection, and bad oral hygiene in general, contribute towards elevating blood sugar levels and fueling diabetes progression, which then leads to other health complications.
Oral Effects of Diabetes
Improper diabetes management can have the following effects on the oral ecosystem:
- Dry mouth and increased cavity risk due to reduced saliva production
- Bleeding from gums
- Problems tasting food
- Delayed wound healing
- Premature teeth eruption (growth) in children
Common Oral Health Problems with Diabetes
- Dry Mouth (Xerostomia): Reduced saliva production due to high blood sugar and regular antibiotic use causes soreness and inflammation in the mouth tissues, which can make chewing, tasting, and swallowing difficult. In progressive stages, Xerostomia can lead to soreness, ulcers, infection and tooth decay.
- Fungal Infection/Thrush: Reduced saliva production allows the otherwise harmless resident mouth fungus Candida albicans to grow unchecked, resulting in a fungal infection ‘Thrush’ characterized by sore white or red patches. People with type 1 or type 2 diabetes who regularly wear dentures are also at higher risk.
- Burning Mouth Syndrome: A side-effect of diabetes-induced thrush, burning mouth syndrome results in severe and persistent pain and burning in the mouth.
- Periodontal Disease: Thickening of blood vessels due to diabetes is worsened with poor management, which further reduces nutrient supply and waste removal to and from the mouth and other body tissues. This results in frequent and severe bacterial infections like periodontal or gum disease.
Controlling blood sugar by adhering to your medication, diet, and exercise plan along with regularly monitoring blood glucose levels with the help of your Glu-Sage blood glucose meter is highly essential for preventing diabetic oral health complications. Other preventative measures include:
- Avoid or quit smoking, as it further amplifies the risk of developing oral infections by 20 times more than non-smokers with diabetes.
- If you wear braces, consult your orthodontist immediately if a wire or bracket cuts your tongue or mouth.
- Use a soft-bristled toothbrush for your twice-daily brushing routine, and brush after every meal.
- Drink water and chew sugar-free gum to increase saliva production and avoid dry mouth.
- Get regular dental checkups and cleanings at least twice a year
- Use dental floss once a day to prevent plaque buildup
- If you wear dentures, remove and clean them daily
Gum Disease Treatment
For well-controlled diabetes, periodontitis treatment is usually the same as for someone without diabetes. Early stage treatment generally involves plaque and calculus removal from the teeth and surrounding pockets.
For uncontrolled diabetes, however, treatment may be tailored to specific individual conditions, with more frequent dental cleanings, scaling, root planning, and even surgery in some extreme cases.
Diabetes and Oral Surgery
Diabetes may complicate any form of oral surgery, from minor corrections to complex procedures; with increased difficulty in blood sugar control after surgery. Moreover, the healing time is also delayed with diabetes. This is why you should inform your dentist of your condition and work closely with both your endocrinologist and dentist to minimize complications in case a surgery is needed.
For oral surgeries, the American Diabetes Association Recommends:
- Eating before the visit to ensure normal-range blood glucose.
- Consulting with your dentist and endocrinologist on any diabetes medication adjustment and infection-preventing antibiotic post-procedure.
- Eat soft or liquid foods to avoid pain and healing disruption in case a surgery leaves your mouth sore.
- Immediately receive treatment for acute infections like abscesses to avoid further infection, but postpone non-emergency dental procedures until blood sugar control is regained.
As with all bodily conditions, careful attention to diabetes and dental health can help with maintaining a healthy oral cavity. However, remember to visit your dentist regularly, and discuss the details of your condition, including medication, symptoms, and previous glucose results for optimal oral health and diabetes management.