Is there a relationship between diabetes and oral health? Yes, and it’s a complex and serious one.
Diabetes and oral care issues: sugar, smoking and saliva
People with diabetes are at a higher risk of oral problems due to the higher concentration of glucose in the saliva, the poor healing of oral tissue and sometimes the medications they take.
They are also more susceptible to cavities, dry mouth, gum disease and thrush (a fungal infection that occurs in the mouth). Smoking can exacerbate the dangers of diabetes to oral health by further increasing the risks of these conditions.
The mouth naturally contains many types of germs. When sugars from foods mix with germs, plaque is created on the surface of the teeth. Plaque attacks the hard outer surface, or enamel, of your teeth, leading to cavities.
Why am I so dry?
The American Diabetes Association notes that dry mouth may increase one's risk of cavities as well. Why? There is less saliva present to wash away the germs and acids created by foods, and there are elevated levels of sugar present in the saliva.
In some diabetic patients, dry mouth can occur from medications or during times when there are high levels of blood sugar. Fortunately, there’s an easy fix for this. Chewing sugar-free gum or simply drinking more water will lessen dryness in the mouth.
Unfortunately, there are other problems that can be tougher to fix, as we’ll discuss in the next section.
The gum connection: a closer look
According to the American Dental Association, what’s the most common oral problem for people affected by diabetes? You guessed it: gum disease.
Gum disease occurs when the plaque that is not removed hardens and accumulates over time. Your gums become red and swollen, and may bleed. As gums worsen, the situation can get very serious:
Moderate stage: This first stage of gum disease is called gingivitis. If left untreated, the gums will begin to pull away from the teeth creating pockets or spaces that become infected.
Severe stage: As the infection spreads, it begins to break down bone and tissue that hold teeth in place. This is the second stage of gum disease, called periodontitis, which is far more serious.
Repercussions: If left untreated, teeth may become loose and need to be removed. The American Diabetes Association warns that, if your diabetes is poorly controlled, you will heal more slowly and increase your chances of infection after dental surgery. This could cause recurring gum disease that is more severe and more difficult to treat.
Original content by Dianne L. Sefo, RDH, BA