The US has a population of 328 million, and according to the American Diabetes Association, over 30 million of us have diabetes. To put that in perspective, 30 million+ is more than 9%, and 1.5 million new diabetes cases are diagnosed every year. The illness is the 7thleading cause of death in our country and has been determined to be the underlying cause or a contributing cause of death in many additional cases.
We’d all like to avoid diabetes if possible, or if it’s not, manage the disease so as to have it interfere with our lives as little as possible. But here at Loop Perio, we’ve found that many of our Chicago area patients are unaware of the connection between diabetes and oral health.
What Is Diabetes?
According to the CDC, diabetes is a condition in which the body doesn’t properly process food for use as energy. In a healthy body, the pancreas manufactures a hormone called insulin to help food that’s turned into glucose get into the cells. Diabetics don’t manufacture enough insulin or else their bodies don’t use it as well as they need to. As a result, sugars accumulate in the blood.
Type 1 diabetes was once known as insulin-dependent or juvenile-onset diabetes. It’s a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Genetics and viruses may play a role in its development.
Type 2 diabetes is the more common form of the illness. In this form, also known as hyperglycemia, the body has “insulin resistance,” meaning it doesn’t use its insulin to process glucose properly. At first, the pancreas may produce extra insulin to compensate, but eventually it’s not able to keep up.
Diabetes can lead to other serious health problems like heart disease, kidney disease, blindness, and lower extremity amputations.
The Link Between Diabetes and Oral Health
When you’re diabetic, your body has less resistance to infection, and that includes the mouth. That means diabetics are more likely to develop oral health issues, notably gum disease in the form of gingivitis and periodontal disease, especially if they’re smokers. Once periodontal disease takes hold, this oral health problem can result in inflammation, loss of gum tissue and bone that support teeth, and eventually tooth loss. The infection can even spread to parts of the body outside the mouth to create other serious problems.
Thus, while it’s important for everyone to maintain a strong daily oral health regimen, it’s particularly important for diabetes sufferers.
Other Connections Between Diabetes and Oral Health
These effects are arguably less serious than advanced periodontal disease, but they are at the very least annoying nonetheless.
Dry mouth and the thirst that comes from it. This is the result of having less saliva that in turn can come from elevated blood sugar and also from some diabetic medications. Drinking more water, chewing sugarless gum, and eating healthy, crunchy foods help get saliva flowing again to wash away food particles and so fight cavities.
Things may taste different. Should you experience this, it’s better to look for new appealing foods than to add sugar to the old ones to add extra flavor.
Thrush (candiadiasis.) Because diabetics are more prone to all sorts of infection, they may develop this yeast infection that produces a white layer on the tongue and the insides of the cheeks and can produce a persistent bad taste.
Slow healing. Sores and other problems in the mouth may take longer to heal than it seems they should.
An Oral Health Regimen for Diabetics
Be sure to brush twice daily. Use a soft-bristle toothbrush that fits comfortably in the mouth and is able to reach every tooth surface. Brush with an ADA-approved toothpaste for at least two minutes, and also floss. Doing all this will help control plaque, a sticky, colorless layer that’s a combination of bacteria, mucus, and food particles. Over time, plaque hardens into tartar, and tartar leads to gum disease.
You should also see your dentist twice a year (or more often if recommended) for checkups and cleanings. Checkups catch periodontal disease early, when it can be treated easily. Cleanings remove plaque and tartar. It’s important to understand that even if you’ve followed your home health care routine diligently, you may not have gotten all the plaque, and if some has hardened into tartar, there’s no hope of you removing it. Only professional cleaning can remove tartar.
Finally, when visiting the dentist, if you’re diabetic, be sure to tell him or her. To provide the best oral health care possible, the dentist needs to know how long you’ve had the illness, if it’s under control, what prescription and non-prescription medications you take, and about any changes in your medical history.
At Loop Perio, we’re experts at providing care to Chicago area diabetic patients. If you’re in need of care, we invite you to call us at (813) 782-4068 to schedule an appointment.