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The deadly connection between dental health and diabetes

  • Posted on- Jun 17, 2015
  • 2497 Views

While most people know that diabetes can lead to such life-threatening conditions as kidney failure, strokes and heart disease, many are surprised to find that there is a dangerous relationship between dental health problems and diabetes. While everyone is at risk of tooth decay and other oral health problems, people with diabetes are particularly at high risk for these complications.

Impact of diabetes on oral health
With increasing evidence, the connection between oral infections and other diseases in the body is becoming widely understood. Bacteria from gum infections can enter the blood stream or airways and travel to other parts of the body. These culprits have the potential to worsen or increase the risk for other types of health problems.

People with diabetes are susceptible to a range of infections, including gum disease. Oral infections can make it difficult to control diabetes and cause complications, since the bacteria from severe gum disease may increase both blood sugar levels and the length of time the body struggles with high blood sugar.

Risk factors
Controlling blood sugar level is the key for those with diabetes. The higher the blood sugar level, the higher the risk of:

  • Tooth decay: The mouth naturally contains many types of bacteria. The white, sticky substance that forms on teeth, especially around the gum line, is known as plaque bacteria. Starches and sugars in food and beverages interact with these bacteria, forming acids that can attack the teeth and lead to cavities. The higher the blood sugar level, the greater the supply of sugars and the more acid to decay the teeth.
  • Gum disease: This is a chronic bacterial infection that affects the gum tissue and bone that supports the teeth. Over time, the build-up of plaque bacteria, which collects at the gum line, eventually hardens into calcium deposits called calculus or tartar. Brushing and flossing cannot remove hardened plaque. If the tartar isn’t removed with professional scaling by a qualified dentist, the bacteria can cause inflammation of the gums, penetrate the gum line and finally spread into the underlying bone.
If left untreated, gum disease can result in complete destruction of the tooth’s supporting tissues and, ultimately, tooth loss.

Gum disease tends to be more severe among people who have diabetes because the disease lowers the ability to fight infection and slows healing. An infection causes blood sugar level to rise, which makes diabetes more difficult to control. Preventing and treating gum disease can help improve blood sugar control.
  • Fungal infections: A yeast infection can often appear as lesions on the skin, mouth and throat. Oral fungal infections are treated with special mouthwashes and antifungal medication and by controlling blood sugar levels.
  • Dry mouth: Uncontrolled diabetes can decrease the saliva flow and cause dry mouth, which can increase the risk of tooth decay and gum disease. It can also affect chewing, speaking, swallowing and the ability to taste. To help relieve dry mouth, sip water throughout the day, chew sugarless gum or use a mouth moisturizer available over the counter. 

Prevention and care
To help prevent infections and complications that can damage teeth and gums, people with diabetes must take their condition and oral care seriously:
  • Commit to manage diabetes: Monitor blood sugar levels and follow diabetologist’s instructions for keeping the levels within the target range. With better control of blood sugar level and good oral hygiene, people with diabetes are less likely to develop gum disease and other oral problems.
  • Schedule regular dental hygiene visits: Dentists will assess teeth and gums and review any changes in medication. To prevent low blood sugar, patients should schedule morning appointments when glucose levels are highest. It is also important for patients to eat normally and take medications as usual to prevent hypoglycaemia. 
  • Spot early signs of gum disease: Report any signs of gum disease including redness, swelling and bleeding gums to a dentist. Also mention any other signs and symptoms such as dry mouth, loose teeth or mouth pain. 

Don’t smoke or use tobacco products. Tobacco increases the risk of serious diabetes complications, including gum disease. Dentists provide advice and information on options for tobacco cessation. Maintain good oral hygiene by following the below listed methods:

  • Brush twice a day for two minutes with a soft toothbrush and fluoridated toothpaste
  • Clean or floss between teeth once a day to remove food and plaque 
  • Clean or scrape the tongue daily 
  • Avoid mouth rinses with alcohol, as they tend to make dry mouth worse 
  • Remove and clean dentures daily