Diabetes is a very deceptive disease with some surprising statistics. It affects approximately 25.8 million people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and one-third of people with diabetes have severe periodontal (gum) disease. Periodontal disease in diabetic patients can ultimately result in the loss of one or more teeth. In fact, the American Dental Association published a recent study that linked one in five cases of total tooth loss to diabetes.
Understanding Periodontal Disease
Like diabetes, periodontal disease can be sneaky and develop slowly without a lot of warning. As detailed by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, gum disease starts when bacteria in your mouth forms a sticky plaque biofilm that adheres to your teeth, especially around the gum line. If not removed regularly and thoroughly, the bacteria in the plaque creates toxins that cause inflammation of your gums. Symptoms of this first stage of gum disease, called gingivitis, are red, swollen and bleeding gums.
If untreated, gingivitis progresses into periodontitis. As more plaque forms on your teeth, at the gum line and under your gums, it eventually hardens into tartar. This causes your gums to pull away from your teeth and form loose pockets. The bacterial toxins create an infection within the pockets that starts to destroy the bone and ligaments surrounding your teeth. Without bone and strong connective tissue to support your teeth, they will begin to loosen, and you may eventually have to have teeth removed.
The Diabetes-Periodontal Disease Connection
If you are diabetic, you know that high blood sugar levels put you at risk for problems with your kidneys, eyes and heart. In addition, diabetes causes your healing process to be slower and compromises your resistance to infections; this increases your susceptibility to developing periodontal disease. These two factors make treating periodontal disease in diabetic patients more difficult and accounts for why gum disease in diabetics may be more severe.
Here's some good news, however: According to the American Dental Association, while on the one hand high blood sugar does create a risk for periodontal disease, on the other hand, treating gum disease can help diabetics control their blood sugar levels.
Preventing Tooth Loss
Losing teeth to periodontal disease does not have to be your destiny. Understanding the disease and its risks can motivate you into taking action. Visit your dentist for regular exams and professional cleanings, and make sure to update your dentist on your diabetic status, including your blood sugar levels and any new medications you may be taking. Call your dentist right away if you have any of the following symptoms: Red, swollen or bleeding gums, bad breath, difficulty chewing, receding gums or sensitive or loose teeth.
An impeccable oral care routine can help you prevent periodontal disease. Brushing at least twice a day and flossing daily is a must. Be sure to replace your toothbrush every three to four months, since toothbrushes harbor bacteria. Also, your dentist may recommend a prescription-strength, anti-microbial rinse, such as Colgate® PerioGard®, to help you fight gingivitis and promote gum healing.
Work with your dentist to develop a specific plan to keep your mouth healthy. When your periodontal health is good, your blood sugar levels are much easier for you to control, and vice versa. You don't have to be another tooth-loss statistic!