Diabetes affects millions of Americans, and the number of patients diagnosed with pre-diabetic conditions increases every day. Most people are unaware that this is a serious disease affecting multiple areas of the body. What many people do not know is its disastrous effects on the mouth!
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce the hormone (insulin) necessary to regulate the amount of “sugar” (glucose) in the blood. There are two different types of diabetes. The first type occurs because a person’s pancreas malfunctions and does not produce the hormone as needed. The second type develops over time, typically in response to high sugar intake and obesity, and consists of cells that are resistant to insulin. The body can make insulin, but due to this resistance, the insulin is incapable of doing its job.
How Does Diabetes Affect the Mouth?
In general, people are aware of the risks of blindness and the loss of extremities when diabetes is out of control. This occurs through a loss of blood flow to these areas. When tissues do not receive enough blood, they die. The cells in the retina of the eye are an extremity, just like fingers and toes.
Increased Risk for Gum Disease
In the mouth, your gums are extremities. Diabetes leads to a lack of blood flow to the gum tissues. This places our diabetic patients at a much higher risk for gum disease than patients with healthy blood sugar levels. When bacteria collects on the teeth in the form of plaque and tartar, the toxins they emit into the surrounding bone, ligament and gums elicit an inflammatory response by the body. In diabetic patients, due to the lack of good blood flow, these inflammatory cells cannot reach the injured areas to repair them.
Gum disease in diabetic patients tends to worsen quickly and does not respond well to traditional treatments. Patients with uncontrolled blood sugar levels will struggle to overcome gum disease. Studies show that there is a reciprocal link between gum disease and diabetes. The high bacterial load in the mouths of patients with gum disease actually increases blood sugar levels. Because these two problems are interrelated, the best success results when you treat them both.
A good blood supply is necessary to help a wound or surgical site heal properly. Patients who suffer from diabetes will suffer more post-surgical complications and take longer for the area to heal than someone without diabetes will. These complications can include a higher risk for infection and poor wound closure.
Diabetic patients also have a higher risk for dental implant failure because implants also require healthy blood flow for healing and attachment to the jawbone.
The exact mechanism is unknown, but scientists confirm that diabetic patients are very likely to also suffer from dry mouth. When you lack the proper amount of saliva, you are at a much higher risk for cavities, gum disease, and mouth sores. Dry mouth is a serious oral health condition that should never be ignored.
How Can I Protect My Oral Health if I Have Diabetes?
There are four important steps you must take to maintain great oral health if you have diabetes. By consistently following these steps, you can protect your mouth from the disastrous effects of diabetes.
Closely Control Your Blood Sugar
As we discussed in the previous section on gum disease, you can help keep your mouth healthy by closely controlling blood sugar. If you have an upcoming oral surgery (tooth extraction or dental implant), you should regulate your blood sugar tightly for a minimum of two weeks before surgery and four weeks after. This will help your body respond to the surgery as well as possible.
You have the power to minimize these negative oral health effects by tightly controlling your blood sugar.
See Your Dentist Consistently
Many of our diabetic patients require more frequent professional teeth cleanings to keep their mouths as healthy as possible. You may need to see the hygienist every 3 months in order to prevent any heavy bacterial buildup. Your dentist will also catch any warning signs of potential dental diseases in their earliest stages when you see him or her consistently.
Practice Great Plaque Control at Home
Everyone, not just diabetics, needs to maintain great oral hygiene at home to keep his or her mouth healthy. This must include twice daily brushing and nightly flossing. Removing dental plaque reduces the overall bacterial load inside your mouth, which can help control blood sugar. It also removes the organisms responsible for cavities and gum disease.
Address Dry Mouth Issues
A dry mouth is not a healthy mouth. Talk to your doctor and dentist about how you can address your dry mouth problems. Your doctor may want to adjust prescription medication dosages. Your dentist will recommend salivary replacement products to help lubricate the mouth. You should also commit to drinking plenty of plain water in order to stay well hydrated. Avoiding alcohol and caffeine is a must for patients with dry mouth. Chewing sugar-free gum helps stimulate saliva production and can protect the mouth between meals.
More Questions about Diabetes and Oral Health?
Call Rockland Dental Specialists today to schedule a consultation with our dental experts. We have decades of experience in treating diabetic patients and helping them maintain optimal oral health. We would love to help you and your loved ones, too!