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What Causes Diabetes?

If you or a family member receive a diagnosis of diabetes, you probably have many questions. While this is a common diagnosis, it's normal to feel an array of emotions when presented with this news - from confusion to frustration. Let's dive into what causes diabetes, the different types, and how best to manage your oral health with this new diagnosis. We're with you while you learn to adapt, manage, and thrive!

Your first question is probably, "what causes diabetes?" There isn't a black and white answer to why you got diabetes! The cause is usually a mix of risk factors that include genetics, lifestyle, and environmental factors. The root trigger also depends on what type of diabetes you have: Type 1, Type 2, or the version brought on by pregnancy, referred to as gestational diabetes. All three types of diabetes produce increased blood sugar levels in the body, contributing to other health problems.

How the Body Processes Glucose

Mayo Clinic lays a foundation for understanding the causes of diabetes with a description of how the body processes glucose. Your pancreas puts out a hormone called insulin, a substance that enables glucose to leave the bloodstream and enter the cells. This system provides energy for cells and keeps your blood sugar at a healthy level. When you don't have enough insulin or when your cells don't respond to it as they should, you get too much sugar in your blood — a disease called diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes occurs when your immune system destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. As a result, you have very little insulin or no insulin at all. Insulin is necessary to move the glucose out of your bloodstream into your cells so they can use it to produce energy. Without insulin, glucose levels in the blood increase. Treatment for Type 1 diabetes is insulin.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. If you have Type 2, your body does not use insulin properly. While your pancreas makes insulin, receptors on your cells that recognize when insulin is present don't work correctly. This is known as insulin resistance. Glucose will remain in your bloodstream instead of moving into your cells. A prescribed medication helps improve receptor sensitivity to insulin, which moves glucose out of the blood and into the cells to produce energy.

Pregnancy-Related Diabetes

If you are concerned about gestational diabetes, we have some helpful facts for when it occurs and how. As a pregnant woman, you would expect to develop gestational diabetes around the 24th week of pregnancy. It affects 18 percent of pregnancies and occurs when some of the hormones in your body produced during pregnancy block insulin action, as reported by the American Diabetes Association (ADA). As your unborn child grows, you create even more of these insulin-blocking hormones. In most cases, your pancreas will attempt to overcompensate by putting out more insulin. Still, sometimes it struggles to overcome the unresponsiveness. The result is too much glucose in your blood and too little inside your cells.

Risk Factors for Diabetes

There's a host of risk factors that can lead to a diagnosis of diabetes, and it's usually not just one that leads to a diagnosis. According to the International Diabetes Federation, Type 1 risk factors include a family history of the illness, environmental factors, and viruses. But, more research is essential to understand specific risk factors for this type of diabetes. For Type 2, family history may also play a role. Still, physical inactivity, obesity, an unhealthy diet, and high blood pressure, among other factors, may also make you more likely to develop this disease. As noted by Mayo Clinic, there are several risk factors for developing gestational diabetes. They include a family history of the condition, being over the age of 25, being overweight and physically inactive, already delivering a baby weighing more than 9 pounds, a diagnosis of polycystic ovary syndrome, a previous diagnosis of gestational diabetes, or prediabetes, and non-Caucasian ethnicity.

Oral Care for Diabetes

If you're interested in this subject, you're probably also interested in the relationship between diabetes and dental health. We're glad you are proactive! If you have diabetes, you have a greater risk of developing cavities and gum disease. This doesn't mean your mouth will automatically suffer because of your diagnosis. Instead, it means you need to take strong preventative measures and let your dental professional know you have diabetes.

Besides managing your blood sugar, we recommend brushing your teeth twice a day with a soft-bristle toothbrush and flossing (also known as interdental cleaning) once a day. You and your dentist can create a plan for regularly scheduled checkups and how best to watch for signs of cavities and gum disease.

While you're probably here to find out what causes diabetes, we hope that you feel more confident about this sometimes confusing topic after reading this article. Many risk factors for diabetes are out of your control, but your lifestyle and attitude are yours to create! Reduce your risk by engaging in lifestyle best practices such as weight control, eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and continuing regular dental checkups.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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