Diabetes and oral health

How Does Diabetes Affect Oral Health

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According to the International Diabetes Federation or IDF, close to 425 million adults were living with diabetes in 2017. It caused 4 million deaths (2017) and remains to be one of the leading causes of death in the world.

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, you may know that the disease comes with alarming complications such as stroke, heart disease and kidney failure. It is also an important cause of blindness and amputation. Did you know that diabetics are also at special risk for periodontal or gum disease?

SEE ALSO: Oral Cancer: Are You at Risk?

How are diabetes and gum disease related?

Diabetes reduces the body’s resistance to infection and slows down healing process. This is why oral infections tend to be more severe in people with diabetes. Moreover, people with uncontrolled diabetes tend to have more oral health problems. This is because uncontrolled diabetes impairs leukocytes (white blood cells), the body’s primary defense against infections. Diabetes also decreases salivary flow and increase salivary glucose levels – the perfect setting for fungal infections such as thrush.

What other types of problems could diabetics experience?

  • Burning Mouth Syndrome (BMS) - a painful and often frustrating condition that may affect the tongue, the roof of the mouth, the gums, the inside of the, cheeks and the back of the mouth or throat. Also called “burning tongue (or lips) syndrome,” “scalded mouth syndrome”, it is often described as a burning sensation in the tongue, lips, palate or throughout the mouth.
  • Dry mouth (xerostamia) – Diabetes can reduce saliva flow which results in dry mouth. Dry mouth can further lead to soreness, ulcers, infections and tooth decay.
  • Thrush - an infection caused by fungus that grows in the mouth. Thrush produces white patches in the mouth that could become sore and ulcerous. It may attack the tongue and cause difficulty in swallowing and compromise your ability to taste.
  • Poor healing of oral tissues - People with diabetes do not heal quickly after oral surgery or other dental procedures because blood flow to the treatment site can be impaired.

What are the early signs of gum disease?

  • Bleeding gums when you brush or floss.
  • Red, swollen or tender gums
  • Gums that have pulled away from teeth
  • Pus between the teeth and gums when the gums are pressed
  • Permanent teeth that are loose or moving away from each other
  • Bad breath
  • Changes in the way your teeth fit when you bite
  • Changes in the fit of your dentures or bridges
SEE ALSO: “My gums bleed when I floss.”

How can I prevent dental problems associated with diabetes?

  • Manage and keep your blood glucose level in check. Follow your doctor's instructions to keep your blood sugar level within your target range.
  • Take good care of your teeth and gums. Brush your teeth for two minutes twice a day. Floss daily. You may also ask your dentist if you need to use a mouthwash.
  • If you wear dentures, remove them and clean them daily.
  • Visit your dentist regularly and be sure to tell your dentist that you have diabetes.
  • Go for professional teeth cleanings at least twice a year.
  • Do not smoke. People with diabetes who smoke are at even a greater risk — up to 20 times more likely than nonsmokers — for developing periodontal disease.
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