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 surprise. Did you know that diabetes can take a toll on your teeth and mouth? 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!
Dental Care For Diabetics: Five Conditions To Watch For
On receiving your new diagnosis, your first question is probably, "what causes diabetes?" There isn't a black and white answer to why you got this condition. 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 result in increased blood sugar levels in the body, which contributes to other health problems, including oral health problems.
How the Body Processes Glucose
The foundation for understanding the causes of diabetes is set 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 recognise 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.
Diabetes and the Toll on Your Oral Health
According to The South African Dental Association, diabetes can affect your mouth in five different ways if untreated or uncontrolled. Here's what you need to know about each possible condition and the best dental care for diabetic patients.
Studies have shown that people with diabetes have less saliva, leading to a condition known as dry mouth. How can you fight it? By drinking plenty of water. You can also try sugar-free gum. Ensure the gum doesn't contain sugar, because any extra sugar combined with dry mouth can lead to cavities. Another essential part of dental care for people with diabetes is remembering to brush twice a day to keep cavities away.
People with diabetes are more likely to develop thrush. Also known as oral candidiasis, thrush is a fungal infection of the mouth. Signs of thrush include white or red patches inside your mouth that can be quite painful. What is a good diabetes dental care strategy to avoid getting thrush? Keep your glucose in check and practise good oral hygiene habits.
Do you get cold sores in your mouth that don't seem to heal? This could also be a condition brought on by diabetes. The right blood sugar levels help heal cold sores or cuts, whereas if your blood sugar levels aren't under control, your injuries will not heal quickly or properly. The best dental care for a diabetic patient in this situation would be to consult with a dental professional.
People with diabetes may also suffer from gum problems. When you have diabetes, the body struggles to defend itself against bacterial infections. When left unchecked, high glucose levels can create an environment in the mouth where germs can thrive and flourish. This can result in tissue damage, which, if untreated, can lead to eventual tooth loss. If you find your gums bleeding or see leaky pus between your gums and teeth, the right diabetes dental care would be to immediately consult a dental professional.
To prevent gum problems, brush your teeth twice daily and floss at least once a day.
Change in Taste
If you have diabetes, you might be surprised – and even disappointed – to find that some of your favourite foods don't taste as rich and flavourful as you remember. Having diabetes can cause a change in your taste. While this is undoubtedly disappointing, it could also be an opportunity for you to discover new foods. If you notice a persistent bad taste, the best dental care for a diabetic patient would be to check with a doctor.
Living with diabetes is a journey – one that might feel overwhelming as you start to navigate it. You might have been surprised to learn the link between diabetes and your oral health, but we're here to ensure that your teeth and mouth stay healthy. By drinking plenty of water, paying attention to any warning signs, and regularly brushing and flossing, you can keep any possible problems at bay!