Diabetes have become a major health issue in the U.S. with nearly 9.3% of its population, or about 29.1 million people, dealing with its adverse effects on their bodies. Oral health is one department diabetics need to be especially careful about. Their heightened glucose levels due to improper insulin response can cause high risk for gingivitis and severe gum disease, thrush, tooth decay, and dry mouth. Almost 2 million new people are diagnosed annually and it’s estimated that over 8 million have no idea they may be suffering from diabetes.
Untreated Diabetes: The Warning Signs
Since so many people don’t even know they have diabetes, many doctors and dentists make a point to educate their patients about warning signs. When it comes to the mouth, many happenings can be pointing to a case of diabetes. If you experience any of the following or a combination of them, be sure to contact your dentist’s office to schedule a consultation as soon as possible:
• Excessive pain or tooth decay
• Regular and consistent bleeding or swollen gums
• A dry oral cavity or lower saliva levels
• Problems tasting food
• Oral sores don’t heal as quickly, causing infections
Gingivitis and Gum Disease
All oral infections get their genesis from the bacteria in our mouths that convert sugar into plaque. If plaque gets a chance, it coats all the surfaces of the mouth, especially our teeth structures and gums. If not brushed away, plaque becomes tartar, a crusty structure of micro-organisms that can’t be removed without a professional cleaning. Throughout these stages, the gingiva become inflamed and bleed, acid from the bacteria and plague eat away at the tooth’s enamel, and infection can set into the hard to reach places.
Diabetics are especially susceptible to the above responses to bacteria, plaque, and tartar. Due to the nature of diabetes, saliva production diminishes, leaving the mouth defenseless and vulnerable to gingivitis and infection. A very significant correlation between diabetes and periodontitis (severe gum disease) has been found in several studies over the last decade.
The American Dental Association warns that 22% of diagnosed diabetics also deal with periodontal complications, and usually poorly controlled blood glucose levels are to blame. At periodontitis worst stages, the pocket between tooth and gum widens, creating pockets for bacteria to further do damage, filling with pus and further inflaming the area. The infection may require surgery. If left untreated, the infection gets down into the bone of the jaw, teeth become loose, and teeth fall out or need to be pulled out to save the rest of the mouth. The worst part is that like all infections, periodontitis further rises the blood sugar levels, creating a downward spiral of diabetes that are much more difficult to control.
Thrush and Dry Mouth
While periodontitis is usually the biggest concern for diabetes because of its catch-22 nature, thrush and dry mouth are close runners-up. Thrush is an infection caused by fungus rather than bacteria. Thrush appears as white lesions inside the cheeks or on the tongue which may bleed or be painful if touched. The infection can spread to the gums, roof of the mouth, and throat. Diabetics’ sugar in their saliva can feed thrush, making the fungus grow exponentially in the mouth. (Source: diabetes-and-diabetics.com)
Reduced saliva levels are also a common problem for diabetics, causing dry mouth. Dry mouth is also considered a jump off point or contributor to oral infections, tooth decay, and tooth loss because without saliva to defend against it, oral bacteria and plaque have free reign of the oral cavity.
Diabetic Sufferers Oral Issue Prevention Plan
It’s very important to be aware of your risks as a diabetic, and oral issues are no exception. Be sure to communicate your concerns and health standing with your dentist so he or she can be aware and keep an eye out for any warning signs they’ve been trained to detect in diabetic bodies. Also disclose any medications you’re currently taking. Additionally, if you have uncontrolled or high blood sugar levels prior to a scheduled serious dental procedure, it’s usually best to postpone the dental work until your body is in better condition.
Prevention is the best way to overcome the odds when it comes to diabetes and oral health. Taking extra good care of your teeth with regular flossing and brushing, as well as dental check-ups every six months can aid in maintaining good diabetic control and lowering your HbA1c lab test scores. Avoid smoking or tobacco use, as well as any habits that could damage your oral tissues and invite infection. Most importantly, keep control of your glucose levels to ensure that everything else stays balanced and healthy.