The effects of diabetes on kidneys, heart, eyes, feet, heart, and nerves are well-reported. However, its impact on oral health needs equal attention. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Diabetes Statistics Report 2022 estimates that more than 130 million adults are living with diabetes or prediabetes in the United States. Based on the analysis of 2019 data, the report comprises information on the incidence and prevalence of diabetes and prediabetes, steps for type 2 diabetes prevention, and diabetes management. Likewise, the WHO categorizes diabetes as one of the globally common non-communicable diseases. These stats and facts show that a significant number of people in the US and the rest of the world are at risk of diabetes-induced oral health diseases. So, let’s understand more about how diabetes and oral health are linked.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic lifestyle disease that interrupts how your body utilizes the energy from food. The food we eat breaks down into glucose and travels through the bloodstream towards the cells. When this happens, the pancreas releases a hormone called insulin, which is key to letting the blood glucose move into your body’s cells for energy.
In the case of diabetes, the body either can’t use the insulin efficiently or doesn’t make enough insulin. When cells stop using insulin, or there isn’t enough insulin, blood sugar spikes up and stays in the bloodstream. If undetected or untreated, high blood sugar can cause serious health problems like kidney disease, heart disease, slow wound healing, and vision loss.
How are oral health problems and diabetes linked?
Uncontrolled diabetes can cause several dental problems.
- Higher susceptibility to bacterial infection
White blood cells (WBC) protect the mouth against bacterial infections. However, diabetes weakens the white blood cells, allowing harmful oral bacteria to take over and cause cavities, gum disease, bad breath, and even tooth loss.
- Gum inflammation (gingivitis) and periodontitis
In addition to making white blood cells weaker, diabetes causes blood vessels to thicken. Thicker blood vessels affect the flow of nutrients to the body tissues and slow the flush of waste products from body tissues, including the mouth. The disruption to these two essential functions weakens the body’s ability to fight infections. Since periodontitis starts as a bacterial infection (gingivitis), people with high blood sugar might experience recurrent and more severe gum disease.
- Dry mouth (Xerostomia)
Saliva production is nature’s way of cleansing the mouth. However, uncontrolled diabetes decreases saliva, causing dry mouth. The condition can further lead to ulcers, soreness, infections, and tooth decay.
- Poor healing of oral tissues
The graver effects of diabetes include slow wound healing and wounds worsening faster. Thicker and stiffer blood vessels make blood circulation slower and interrupt the delivery of nutrients to wounds. Consequently, recovery slows down or may not happen in people with uncontrolled diabetes. This makes dental procedures for people with diabetes risky because wounds won’t heal quickly. However, letting the dental problem develop further is equally damaging to oral health. The solution in such cases is to manage blood sugar levels and keep them within the normal range. However, it is the ideal way to live with diabetes. Therefore, it becomes essential before, during, and after oral procedures if you have diabetes.
People with diabetes may be recommended antibiotics to prepare the body to fight various infections. However, taking these antibiotics too frequently makes diabetes patients highly vulnerable to oral thrush—a yeast infection that causes creamy white lesions on the tongue and mouth. High blood sugar levels in the saliva of people with diabetes feed and multiply yeast. Wearing dentures for long hours may also cause fungal infections.
- Burning mouth and tongue
Burning mouth syndrome is a symptom of poor glycemic control and oral thrush caused by diabetes. This syndrome causes a burning sensation in the mouth, leading to discomfort, excessive dryness, and thirst.
Receding or eroding gum bones in diabetic patients with gingivitis or periodontitis may affect how teeth usually erupt and cause misalignment as teeth move incorrectly.
Smokers with diabetes are at a greater risk of developing the oral problems mentioned above. Also, smoking is one of the primary causes of type-2 diabetes. Click this page to book an appointment with your dentist and know more about smoking and oral health.
What are the signs of diabetes causing oral health problems?
Oral health diseases related to diabetes may not always show symptoms. Therefore, go for regular dental checkups. However, some signs that could indicate the onset of diabetes-induced dental or gum issues include the following:
- Gum bleeding, particularly while brushing or flossing
- Red, sore, or swollen gums
- Teeth looking longer because of gum recession
- Changes in dentition (the way your teeth fit together)
- Halitosis (chronic bad breath)
- Permanent teeth getting loose
What are the types of diabetes that can affect oral health?
Type-1, Type-2, and Gestational Diabetes may affect your oral health. However, the symptoms and effects more or less remain the same.
How to manage oral health with diabetes?
Here are a few tips to help you be in the pink of oral health while managing diabetes.
- Keep your blood glucose in check.
- Use a soft-bristled tooth to brush your teeth twice daily.
- Be gentle while flossing.
- Use an antiseptic or a fluoridated mouthwash.
- Avoid brushing for 30-45 minutes after eating or drinking. It helps protect the tooth enamel softened by acids in the food.
- Remove and clean your dentures daily.
- Do not sleep wearing dentures.
- Quit smoking.
- Visit your diabetologist regularly without fail. Take care of preexisting health conditions that may worsen diabetes.
- Be careful while eating to avoid cuts or bruises in the mouth.
- Get a bi-yearly dental checkup, or more frequently if your dentist advises.
- Inform your dentists about your diabetes medications and the latest changes in blood sugar levels. It will help them recommend medicines that will prevent or treat the side effects of diabetes medication on your oral health.
We hope this article helps you move a few steps ahead in the journey of living a healthy life.
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