Diabetes is a serious medical condition that afflicts millions of Americans. Those who have it are at a greater risk for gum disease, so being able to control things such as blood pressure are important factors in protecting your teeth. The subject can be a bit confusing, so let's learn more about the connection between diabetes and teeth.
What Is Diabetes?
According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), diabetes is a condition in the body that makes blood glucose rise beyond normal levels. There are two types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2. The more common version, type 2, is known as insulin resistance, and occurs when the body doesn't use insulin correctly to help maintain normal blood glucose levels. This type eventually limits the ability of the pancreas to produce enough additional insulin to compensate. Type 1 is typically discovered in children and young adults, and describes when the body can't produce its own insulin. Only 5-10 percent of all diabetes diagnoses are type 1.
The ADA describes prediabetes as when a person's blood glucose is above average, but not to the point of diabetes. Most people who develop type 2 diabetes have prediabetes. The ADA estimates that more than 29 million Americans have diabetes, and another 86 million Americans aged 20 and older have prediabetes.
Serious health problems such as high blood pressure, kidney disease and stroke are linked to diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic. It also makes those who have it more susceptible to gum disease. Gingivitis is the first stage of gum disease, and can have a two-way effect in many diabetics: On the one hand, symptoms such as red, tender gums that bleed are early warning signs of gingivitis, and high blood glucose can make it harder for your body to fight against them. On the other hand, gum disease can raise blood sugar levels, making diabetes harder to control on a regular basis.
Thrush and Dry Mouth
Diabetes can also cause other oral health issues besides gum disease. One of those is thrush, an oral infection resulting from fungus that grows in the mouth. Diabetes that goes untreated, according to the Mayo Clinic, can produce sugary saliva, which contributes to the growth of this fungus.
Dry mouth is another, very common side effect of diabetes. Diabetes medicine can affect your ability to produce enough saliva to wash away the bacteria that sits on your tongue and in hard-to-reach areas of the mouth, leading to cavities.
Happy, Healthy Teeth
Though diabetes requires better eating habits and other potential lifestyle changes, it doesn't have to affect mouth health. Diligent oral care is the key. Here are a few simple tips the ADA's Diabetes Forecast magazine suggests you take to protect your teeth:
- Brushing is the first step. Using toothpaste such as Colgate TotalSF Clean Mint helps prevent plaque, cavities, tartar build-up and gingivitis. Plaque builds up along the gumline, so be sure to brush those gums, too. Be gentle, with a soft-bristle toothbrush.
- Flossing is also important. Along with dislodging stuck food particles, flossing also removes plaque that collects between the teeth. Carry a small container of floss with you on the go, for those times when a full brushing routine isn't an option.
- Oral care doesn't involve just teeth and gums. Bacteria also collect on the tongue. Don't forget to brush your tongue when tending to your teeth.
Diabetes can result in severe medical issues for those who don't make the effort to control it. With smart, careful planning — including regular dental checkups — you can help prevent problems stemming from diabetes and teeth.