By Robert Ehrman, MD
If you have diabetes, you probably know that you are at an increased risk for problems with your eyes, feet, skin and nervous system. Did you know that diabetes can also cause problems in your mouth?
Take Care Of Your Teeth
Poor blood glucose control lets bacteria grow easily in your mouth. Having lots of bacteria in your mouth lead to plaque buildup on your teeth. When this happens, your gums begin to pull away from your teeth, and pockets form between your teeth and gums. These pockets can become filled with germs and small bits of food. The gums then become inflamed and may bleed when you eat or brush your teeth. This condition is called “gingivitis”.
Keeping your gums healthy is important because they help to hold your teeth in place. If nothing is done, you can get an infection in your gums that can go on to destroy the bone around your teeth, and they may start to move. Your teeth may fall out or need to be pulled.
A recent study at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark looked at the link between oral health and diabetes. The study found that people with good oral health practices, along with a healthy diet and good stress management, had lower blood glucose levels and healthier teeth and gums.
Diabetes: A Major Cause Of Gum Disease
There are many causes of gum disease, including smoking, hormonal changes, and certain cancers. Some medicines can make your mouth dry, which can increase your risk for tooth and gum problems. This is because saliva helps slow the growth of bacteria and keeps your mouth healthy overall. Poorly controlled diabetes can also lead to gum disease.
High levels of sugar in saliva make it easy for bacteria to grow there. This is why poorly controlled diabetes is a risk factor for gum disease. Also, diabetes can cause problems with blood flow to your teeth and gums. This makes it harder to repair damage to your gums and fight infection. It is also important to understand that if you develop gum disease from poor oral habits or other reasons, this could make it harder for you to control your diabetes.
Other oral problems related to diabetes include:
- Thrush: this is an infection caused by a fungus that grows in the mouth and throat
- Dry mouth: this can cause soreness, ulcers, infections and cavities
Dental Check-ups Are Important
It’s important that you tell your dentist if you have diabetes, and keep them informed of any changes in your condition or medicines. Postpone any non-emergency dental procedures if your blood sugar is not well controlled.
What Can You Do To Keep Your Mouth Healthy?
The most important thing you can do is control your blood glucose levels. Have dental check-ups every six months if possible. Avoid smoking and, if you wear dentures, remove and clean them every day. Good blood glucose control can also help prevent or relieve the dry mouth diabetes can cause.
Here are some simple tips for a healthy mouth:
- Keep your blood glucose level under control
- Brush and floss every day
- Visit your dentist at least every 6 months. Be sure to tell them that you have diabetes
- Tell your dentist if your dentures do not fit right, or if your gums are sore
- Stop smoking. Your healthcare provider or dentist can tell you about what options there are to help you quit
- Call your dentist if you notice a problem.
Take time to check your mouth regularly for any problems. If your gums bleed when you brush or floss, or if you notice dryness, soreness, white patches, or a bad taste in your mouth, contact your dentist right away. Remember, good blood glucose control can help keep your mouth happy and healthy for years to come.
6 Signs Of Gum Disease
- Red or swollen gums
- Gums that bleed easily when brushing or flossing
- Receding gums (pulling away from teeth)
- Loose teeth, making it hard to bite and chew
- Constant bad breath
- Dentures that don’t fit anymore