According to the CDC, over 29.1 million Americans are living with diabetes today. That’s about 9.3% of the population living with a complex disease that affects many different aspects of their overall wellbeing, including their dental health. Diabetes can have a dramatic effect on your teeth, and it’s important to know how and why your teeth can be affected by the disease if you’ve been recently diagnosed. Let’s take a look at the challenges and how you can keep your smile in tip-top shape even with the difficulties diabetes presents.
The American Diabetes Association finds that diabetics have an increased disposition towards gum disease — about 22% of all diabetics have related dental issues. Also known as periodontitis, this is a condition that occurs when bacteria in the mouth has been able to damage the gums and teeth over a long period of time. The gums begin to pull away from the teeth and form pockets between the teeth and gums, which leaves the roots of the teeth susceptible to infection and decay. If left untreated, periodontitis can cause tooth loss and can even damage the underlying bone structure in your mouth and jaw. The ADA has also found that about 1 in 5 cases of tooth loss are related to diabetes, which is quite a staggering statistic.
So, why are diabetics more predisposed to oral health problems? It all has to do with blood glucose levels and your saliva. Normally, saliva is how your mouth cleans sugars, acidic substances, and food debris away from your teeth throughout the day. If you have uncontrolled blood glucose levels, there will be too much glucose the your saliva itself, which ends up having the opposite of a cleaning effect. Instead, your saliva will continuously bombard your teeth with this extra glucose, which breaks down into bacteria and wears away at your gums and dental enamel. It also can cause plaque deposits to develop, which can eventually harden into tartar. Over time, these issues are what causes gum disease and can eventually lead to tooth loss, if left untreated. In addition, gum disease can cause blood sugar levels to rise, making it even harder to keep both your teeth and your overall health in good condition.
In addition, many medications used to control diabetes can cause dry mouth, which also makes the teeth and gums more susceptible to infection and degradation — you can find out more about that here. Diabetics are also more prone to halitosis (bad breath) as well as oral thrush, which is a bacterial infection in the mouth. It’s important to let your dentist know if you have diabetes, as you will need special care and consideration in your treatment. It’s also important to discuss with your dentist how you can monitor and tend to your blood glucose levels during dental work, which is particularly important if you need to undergo a long procedure. If your blood glucose levels are not under control, you may not be able to have any non-essential dental procedures until the problem is in check, which can lead to further worsening of dental conditions.
Even if your blood glucose level is under control, it’s essential to maintain a good oral health regimen when you have diabetes in order to mitigate the effects of any excess glucose in your saliva. The increased threat of gum disease and tooth loss is also an important reason for keeping your blood glucose level in check at all times, which, we know, is easier said than done. Keeping tight control over your blood glucose levels is a lot of work and can be difficult for many people. Be honest with both your doctor and your dentist about your concerns and develop a plan that will work right for you and your life. To get started, diabetes.org has a lot of helpful information for how to keep your blood glucose levels in check and how you can work with your care team to develop the right plan. Of course, if you have any questions about how to manage your diabetes and your dental health, you can always ask us!