About 30 million people in America have diabetes, making up about 9.3% of the population. With 1.7 million cases of the disease being diagnosed every year, many people don’t know they have it. A diabetes diagnosis can change a person’s life in many ways they may not have realized until they’re faced with a secondary or co-occurring disorder, which the disease itself can sometimes cause. This applies to oral and dental health, especially so people with diabetes are strongly encouraged to regularly educate themselves on the importance of periodically visiting their oral healthcare provider to maintain overall wellness.
Type I and Type II
There is no simple answer as to what causes diabetes, and usually, the diagnosis comes from a combination of risk factors and genetics and lifestyle, and environmental elements. The different types of diabetes diagnosis can determine how the disease can affect other parts of the body and internal health.
Diabetes is caused by the way the body processes glucose. Ideally, the pancreas releases a hormone called insulin into the bloodstream that causes glucose to enter the cells of the body. This is an essential function in the endocrine system to maintain energy for cells to work correctly and also to keep the body’s blood sugar at a healthy level. When the body isn’t producing enough insulin, or when the cells in the body aren’t responding to insulin as they should, too much sugar is released into the blood, causing the disease of diabetes.
Type I: With this type of diabetes, the immune system in the body destroys cells in the pancreas that are responsible for making insulin, resulting in the body having very little to none for blood sugar regulation. Many people are diagnosed with this type early on in life, and its causes are still unknown. The treatment for type I is a regular dosage of insulin.
Type II: This type of diabetes has become the most common form and causes the body to misuse insulin. While the pancreas produces insulin, the cell receptors cannot recognize it and utilize it for energy, causing insulin resistance. Glucose remains in the bloodstream instead of moving into cells. Treatment for this form is usually a medication that can improve the receptor sensitivity to insulin, helping move glucose out of the bloodstream and into cells to produce energy. People can reverse type II diabetes with proper care.
*Gestational Diabetes occurs during pregnancy. It presents itself as type II and can disappear after delivery.
Effects of Diabetes on Oral Health
There are several ways both types of diabetes can affect the health of the mouth and teeth, which are unavoidable and need to be managed to avoid more serious oral health concerns.
Thrush: A fungal infection that affects people with diabetes caused by a yeast called Candida albicans. It’s identified by white or red, painful patches inside the mouth. It can be avoided with good oral hygiene and frequent rinsing, as well as a balanced diabetic-friendly diet.
Dry Mouth: Sometimes called xerostomia, this condition is common for people with diabetes because of a lack of saliva production. The best way to combat dry mouth is to maintain optimal hydration to avoid secondary effects such as tooth decay and gum disease.
Gum Disease: Both early gum disease (gingivitis) and advanced (periodontitis) can be caused by diabetes. If left untreated, both kinds can be severely detrimental to the health of a patient with diabetes. Not only will a person with diabetes heal slower, but their immune system is often weaker, making it more difficult to stave off infection. Infections can make diabetes much more difficult to control and treat the disease less effectively, putting patients in danger. Regular dental cleanings and checkups are essential for combating these conditions.
Tooth Decay: Cavities may occur in the mouths of people with diabetes more often because of their high blood sugar levels or a constant diet of sugary or starchy foods that come into contact with teeth. While cavities are treatable with fillings, root canals, and other treatments, if left untreated for too long, they can result in eventual gum disease, causing even more severe complications for those with diabetes.
Dental Care Tips for Diabetics
- Regular brushing: gently and regularly brushing teeth at least twice a day, in the morning and before bed, and after meals or snacks, is the best way to avoid decay and gum disease. Using a soft-bristled brush and fluoride toothpaste are also highly advised.
- Daily flossing: using floss to remove plaque between teeth can help keep bacteria away from the gum line. Using a water flossing device is also helpful, but old-fashioned dental floss is very effective at getting particles out from between tightly packed teeth.
- Managing blood sugar: monitoring blood sugar levels throughout the day and following the instructions of a medical provider is essential. If blood sugar is kept within the target range regularly, the less likely a patient will experience major dental issues.
- Dental visits: diabetics especially need to monitor their oral health because it’s vital to overall bodily wellness. An untreated infection can cause dangerous complications for those with diabetes and make the disease harder to manage. Regular cleanings and checkups at the dentist are vital for avoiding high-risk complications.
- Healthy lifestyle: avoiding smoking, fast food, or other unhealthy habits is advised for managing diabetes and proper dental health.
- Managing health history: patients need to tell their dental providers that they have diabetes or suspect they may be at risk (for type II) before any procedures. This can help dentists, and other oral health professionals ensure the safety of the patient.
People with diabetes type I have a lifelong commitment to monitoring their blood sugar and health closely, including optimal dental care. This makes the disease more of an inconvenience than a life-altering ailment. Many people with either type of diabetes can live everyday lives. Still, they must make efforts to communicate with their healthcare providers to properly monitor every aspect of their wellness to live their lives to the fullest.