If you are one of the nearly 30 million Americans with diabetes, your health care provider most likely has warned you that uncontrolled blood-sugar levels can put you at risk for serious complications, such as heart and kidney disease or stroke. But there are dental problems associated with diabetes, as well. In fact, a recent study published by the American Dental Association reported that one in five cases of tooth loss is related to diabetes.
Diabetes-Oral Health Link
When you have diabetes, your body isn’t able to properly process sugars. This is either the result of not producing enough insulin, which causes type l diabetes, or as with type ll diabetes, your body doesn’t respond to insulin. But if tooth decay and gum disease are caused by bacteria, what’s the connection?
Untreated diabetes, as well as some medications, can change the consistency and/or reduce the flow of saliva, which is important in cleaning bacteria from your teeth and neutralizing harmful acids in your mouth. With an overabundance of bacterial acids, you are more susceptible to tooth decay, as well as periodontal (gum) disease. In addition, diabetics often have a lower resistance to mouth infections, such as thrush, and they generally experience poor wound healing, affecting treatments like dental implants or tooth extractions. However, according to the American Dental Association, gum disease, which can lead to tooth loss, is the most common dental problem, affecting 22 percent of diabetics. And these two diseases are connected in an unusual way.
Inflammation, anywhere in the body, can cause blood-sugar (glucose) levels to rise in people with diabetes – and high glucose levels create inflammation. So diabetics with existing gum disease, which is inflammatory in nature, may find that their blood sugar becomes harder to control, and these high glucose levels can cause their gum disease to progress more rapidly. While this problem may seem like a catch-22, there is a solution.
Healthy Mouth—Low Glucose Levels
If you have diabetes, one of the best ways to lower your blood sugar is to have a clean healthy mouth. Here are some tips that will keep your mouth free of disease and your blood-sugar levels controlled.
- Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and floss regularly
- Schedule regular dental checkups and cleaning appointments. Those with diabetes may need more frequent dental visits so be sure to follow your dentist’s recommendations.
- Monitor and keep your blood-sugar levels as prescribed by your doctor
- Keep your dentist informed of your glucose levels. Your dentist and your physician may need to collaborate to provide you the best overall care.
- Chew sugar-free gum, lozenges to stimulate saliva or use a saliva substitute
- Avoid or quit smoking
- Call your dentist if your gums become inflamed or bleed
- Have any periodontal disease treated as soon as possible
The American Academy of Periodontology recommends that anyone with diabetes have an annual comprehensive periodontal examination. This way, if gum disease is detected, it can be treated with either nonsurgical treatment, like scaling and root planing, or more advanced treatments if needed. After periodontal treatments, more frequent periodontal cleanings and examinations are generally prescribed. This can be a problem, since most insurance plans only provide benefits for a routine cleaning every six months, and some plans don’t provide much in the way of coverage for periodontal treatments. However, because oral health is a key component of overall wellness, United Concordia Dental offers a plan (Smile for Health®— Wellness) that covers periodontal treatment and maintenance for people with certain chronic health conditions, like diabetes.
Even with a diagnosis of diabetes, your oral health is manageable, and dental problems associated with diabetes aren’t necessarily in your future. By knowing the risks, following good oral hygiene routines and working with both your MD and dentist, you can keep your mouth healthy and this disease under control.