Many times, we don’t connect two things that aren’t directly related. For example, it took decades to discover the relationship between oral health and Alzheimer’s disease. The connection certainly wasn’t even obvious to researchers searching for Alzheimer’s cause. But it’s important to remember that, when it comes to the human body, everything is connected.
In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control estimated that nearly 115 million Americans had either diabetes or prediabetes: 23.1 million diagnosed, 7.2 million undiagnosed, and 84.1 million with prediabetes. That’s over 34 percent of the population. The American Diabetes Association estimates that the number of Americans diagnosed with diabetes will increase by 165 percent by 2050.
Diabetes is a medical condition which affects every part of the body—heart, kidneys, eyes, nerves, skin, circulatory system, cardiovascular system, nervous system—so it should come as no surprise that the mouth, teeth and gums would also be affected by the disease.
Diabetes affects oral health with a weakened immune system. According to Cleveland Clinic, uncontrolled diabetes can debilitate white blood cells, and those cells are the main defense against oral bacterial infections. Additionally, gum disease is one of diabetes’ many complications.
Research also suggests that gum disease and diabetes have an even more diabolical connection. The American Diabetes Association reports that not only can diabetes cause gum disease, but gum disease may contribute to the progression of diabetes. Those with diabetes are more susceptible to gum disease, because of their increased inability to fight bacteria which invades the gums, but gum disease may affect blood glucose control, hastening the progression of diabetes.
The American Dental Association (ADA) discusses similar results and finds that a 2018 review of observational studies discovered that “periodontitis is associated with … diabetes-related complications in persons who have developed type 2 diabetes.” Additionally, the ADA found there to be “suggestive evidence that periodontal treatments, including scaling and root planing, may result in improvement of glycemic control.”
Since gum infections are more prevalent amongst those with diabetes, good oral health is crucial. The Mayo Clinic has a list of the most common oral health issues for those with diabetes:
- Tooth Decay – The higher one’s blood sugar level, the greater the supply of sugars and starches, which interact with plaque-causing bacteria.
- Gingivitis – Because diabetes reduces the ability to fight bacteria, plaque and tartar can get below the gumline, irritating the base of one’s teeth and causing gums to become swollen and bleed easily.
- Periodontitis – If gingivitis is left untreated, it can lead to a more serious infection which destroys the soft tissue and bone supporting the teeth, causing the teeth to potentially fall out.
- Oral Thrush – Those with diabetes are more susceptible to this fungal infection, also known as oral candidiasis, which causes painful white or red patches inside the mouth.
- Dry Mouth – Some people with diabetes have salivary gland issues which reduces the amount of saliva production. Since saliva moistens and cleanses teeth and gums, those with dry mouth are at risk for an increase in tooth decay, gum disease, and thrush.
The solution to maintaining good oral health for those with diabetes isn’t difficult but does require some vigilance. Blue Cross provides the following simple-to-enact suggestions:
- Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
- Floss daily to clean between the teeth and gums.
- Limit snacks and sweets that cause tooth decay.
- Drink water throughout the day to reduce acids that attack the teeth.
- Control blood sugar to help reduce plaque.
- Tell your dentist if you have diabetes.
- Get routine checkups, X-rays and cleanings at least two times per year.
For more information, the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers provides a list of website links with information on oral health issues and solutions for those with diabetes.
It’s always important to be proactive in managing one’s oral health, but it’s especially important for those who either currently have diabetes or for those with a family history of diabetes. The best place to begin is to schedule a visit with the office of Dr. Brei.
There are many ways to contact the office of Dr. Brei. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org, call them at 520-325-9000, or click here to book an appointment directly. Be proactive and reserve some time to visit Dr. Brei today so you can maintain good oral health whether you have diabetes or not.