Updated: Jan 19
Every year, almost 30 million Americans are forced to deal with the wide-ranging consequences of diabetes. This metabolic disease affects your body’s ability to absorb glucose, which can lead to high blood sugar levels. Excess blood sugar can drastically alter your quality of life, causing everything from blurred vision and frequent infections to heart disease, kidney malfunctions, and nerve damage. Diabetes can also have a marked impact on your overall oral health.
How Diabetes Affects Oral Health
Diabetes hampers the effectiveness of your white blood cells which in turn works to weaken your immune system. The disease will also cause your blood vessels to thicken, restricting the flow of nutrients to critical areas of your body, and hampering the removal of waste materials from these regions. These factors combine to leave your body susceptible to bacterial infections of all types.
In the oral environment, these vulnerabilities can manifest in the form of oral infections such as gingivitis and periodontitis. Gingivitis is an early form of oral disease. It is a result of bacterial buildups (plaque). Over time, these deposits can cause inflammation and bleeding in the gums. While gingivitis can be irritating, it does not necessarily lead to bone or tooth loss.
However, if you have diabetes, then your immune system has already been weakened, which means that your body’s ability to fight off bacterial infections and heal damaged tissue will be severely compromised. As a result, gingivitis can quickly progress into a disease known as periodontitis.
In periodontitis, plaque causes the gum tissue and bone to recede away from the teeth. This erosion creates large pockets which become collecting points for leftover food and other harmful deposits. These bacterial buildups will produce toxins that attack the connective tissues and bone at the base of each tooth. As your oral structure deteriorates, tooth loss becomes inevitable.
Other Symptoms of Diabetes-Related Oral Decay
Possible indicators include:
Dry Mouth – Diabetes can decrease the flow of saliva to your mouth which will leave your mouth dry. Saliva contains antimicrobial agents that work to neutralize toxins in the mouth and kill harmful bacteria. The movement of the fluid can also help to wash away small particles of food that are lodged in and around your teeth. If this influence is not present then your mouth will become more vulnerable to tooth decay and gum disease.
Thrush – Dry mouth can also lead to a condition known as thrush. This is an often painful fungal infection that manifests in the form of raised white bumps around the tongue and inner cheek. This fungus is further encouraged by high glucose levels in your blood and saliva. Patients with thrush may also experience burning or bleeding around the inner mouth.
Poor healing – As mentioned above, diabetes will affect your mouth’s ability to heal from cuts, scrapes and surgeries. If you are noticing persistent wounds in your mouth then this is a sign that you may be suffering from diabetes.
Dental Health for Diabetes Patients
Patients with diabetes are advised to follow these recommendations to prevent further damage to their oral environment.
Stick to a doctor-prescribed dietary plan and exercise regimen. This should help to keep your blood sugar levels in check and prevent the worst side effects of diabetes.
Brush your teeth at least twice a day. Make sure to cover all pockets at the root of your teeth and the areas in between. Diabetes patients must be extra vigilant about any bacterial buildups.
Chew sugar-free gum and drink plenty of water to maintain saliva levels in your mouth.
Visit your dentist at least twice a year. Make sure that your regular oral health practitioner is aware of your diabetes and that they have a tailored dental care plan in place to account for it.