November isn’t just Thanksgiving: It’s also National Diabetes Month. This disease affects around 37 million Americans, including adults and young people. Oral health is closely linked to health issues, including diabetes, and vice versa. Along with your primary care doctor and other specialists, your health care team should also include your dentist!
People with diabetes are more prone to cavities and infections of the gums and bones which keep your teeth in place, as diabetes lowers the blood supply to those areas. If you are a diabetic over age 50, your risk will be even greater, mainly because aging alone increases dental problems if you are not taking good care of your smile. If you notice sore or bleeding gums, constantly get infections and have chronic bad breath, you may have diabetes and dental issues that need treatment.
Common Oral Conditions in Diabetics
- Dry Mouth: Age isn’t the only factor that causes dry mouth: Diabetes does too. Women in particular are vulnerable to lower saliva levels, which lead to dry mouth (or xerostomia). Healthy saliva levels secrete enzymes that attack harmful oral bacteria.
- Gingivitis: This early stage of gum disease arises as oral bacteria make your gums bleed, redden and feel sore. This bacteria thrives on sugar, creating oral acids that damage your teeth. If you have unmanaged diabetes, your saliva will contain more sugar that will mix with saliva and bits of stray food particles, turning into plaque.
- Periodontitis: If you leave gingivitis unchecked, it will eventually worsen, ending up as periodontitis, a severe version of gum disease wearing down bone density and oral tissues that hold your teeth in place. Unless you brush and floss diligently, gum pockets will form, a condition where your gums pull away from your teeth. Unlike gingivitis, periodontitis cannot be reversed, only managed.
- Oral infections: Fungal yeast infections, referred to as “thrush”, often shows up as white or red patches in the mouth for people with diabetes. Yeast feeds off of excess sugar in your saliva and shows up more in people who wear loose-fitting dentures and smoke.
- Wounds taking longer to heal: This is common in people as they age, as well as in diabetics. It also increases your risk of infection. This is bad news if you have gum or tooth issues, as healing takes longer.
Protecting Teeth and Gums in Diabetics
Understanding the link between oral health and diabetes will hopefully help you work to prevent problems from developing to begin with. As with most things, an ounce of prevention is so much easier than a pound of cure!
Tips To Keep Your Mouth Healthier
- Manage your blood sugar as recommended by your doctor with diet and exercise.
- Practice good daily oral hygiene care, which includes using a soft-bristled toothbrush, flossing twice a day and rinsing with an antibacterial mouthwash.
- Protect the enamel on your teeth by waiting half an hour before brushing to dilute oral acids.
- Remove and clean your dentures every night; no sleeping in them!
- If you still smoke, now is the time to stop.
- Come in for regular professional dental cleanings every six months or as recommended.
Healthy Body, Healthy Mouth
The good news is diabetes-friendly foods are also tooth-friendly, so it’s a win-win. Feel free to consume the following dietary choices. Your doctor and dentist will likely approve!
- Beans and other legumes
- Cabbage and Brussels sprouts
- Cottage cheese
- Nonfat yogurt
- Non-starchy vegetables
- Wild salmon
This Thanksgiving, we hope to give you something extra to be thankful for with these timely tips. If you have diabetes, we hope this helps you maintain better oral health as simply and effectively as possible. We welcome you to give us a call today if you would like to schedule your next dental visit or speak with our dental team!