As science and research advance, one of the realms they are uncovering and exploring is the link between oral health and the health of the whole body. It has long been mistakenly assumed that the mouth and the body were separate. Most likely, this myth maintains momentum through the separation of dentists and doctors. We like to compartmentalize things.
The truth is that the mouth is the gateway to the body. The health of the mouth has an effect on the entire body, and the health of the body has an effect on the mouth. It is simply impossible to have a completely healthy body when the mouth is full of dental disease.
As we continue to learn more and more about the link between oral health and systemic health, we see that it is essential for medical doctors, dentists, and patients to work together. One of the most obvious and important links found is that between diabetes and periodontal disease.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is one of the most prevalent diseases in the US, affecting millions of Americans. There are various causes of the disease and a few different types. The result is the same, though: an inability to control the blood glucose level or “sugar”. Because their bodies cannot naturally do so, diabetics must work to control blood sugar through the use of specific dietary restrictions and medications. The consequences of uncontrolled blood sugar can be disastrous to the entire body.
One of the most noteworthy consequences of uncontrolled diabetes is the loss of important blood flow to extremities. This is why people with severe diabetes often lose toes or go blind.
What is Periodontal Disease?
Periodontal disease is an infection in the gum tissues surrounding the teeth, which leads to an inflammatory response. Over time, the bacterial toxins induce chronic inflammation, which destroys the supporting structures of the teeth.
This gum disease usually involves a snowballing cycle in which bacterial buildup causes inflammation, which destroys bone and gum tissue and leaves deep pockets, which attract more bacterial buildup, etc . . .
When left untreated, periodontal disease often leads to the loss of teeth. For most of history, medical professionals assumed that gum disease and the loss of teeth had no major effect on the rest of the body aside from alterations in the diet. We now know this is false!
How Do These Two Diseases Affect Each Other?
Periodontal disease has shown a link to multiple systemic diseases, and none is more obvious than the link with diabetes. One aspect of the link between these two diseases that is unique is the fact that there is a two-way connection. Not only does diabetes make gum disease worse; chronic gum disease also makes diabetes worse.
As we mentioned earlier, diabetes restricts the amount of blood flowing to the extremities. The gum tissues are an extremity. As diabetes cuts off the blood flow to the gums, they have a reduced ability to fight the bacterial toxins produced by plaque and tartar buildup. Reduced blood flow also limits the body’s ability to heal from infections and surgeries.
Conversely, severe periodontal disease is a chronic infection leading to chronic inflammation in the body. Research studies show that as the amount of disease-causing bacteria increases in the mouth, so does the blood sugar. This means that patients who have chronic gum disease will have a more difficult time controlling their blood sugar, and patients with uncontrolled blood sugar will have more difficulty overcoming periodontal disease.
What Do I Do If I Have Both Diseases?
If you have both diabetes and periodontal disease, the most important thing to understand is that the treatment of both must go together. Many people like to compartmentalize their health problems, making statements like this: “When I get my blood sugar under control, then I’ll take care of my teeth.” The problem with these two diseases is that you will not be successful treating one of them as long as the other is out of control.
The best strategy is to work with both your endocrinologist and your dentist or periodontist at the same time.
When you maintain your blood sugar at a healthy level, your gum disease treatments are more likely to be successful. And when you are actively fighting the bacterial buildup of gum disease through professional dental treatments, you will have better outcomes with the various tactics of controlling blood sugar. They must go hand in hand.
More Questions about Diabetes and Periodontal Disease?
Call Rockland Dental Specialists today to schedule a consultation. We have successfully treated many diabetic patients, helping them to conquer their gum disease while maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.