Did you know that 29.1 million people living in the United States have diabetes? That’s 9.3% of the population. Approximately 1.7 million new cases are diagnosed each year—and 8.1 million people living with diabetes don’t even know they have it.
Diabetes affects your body’s ability to process sugar. All food you eat is turned into sugar and used for energy. In Type I diabetes, the body doesn’t make enough insulin, a hormone that carries sugar from your blood to the cells that need it for energy. In Type II diabetes, the body stops responding to insulin. Both cases result in high blood sugar levels, which can cause problems with your eyes, nerves, kidneys, heart and other parts of your body.
So what does this have to do with that smile of yours — and how can you protect it? First, it’s essential to understand the signs of diabetes and their roles in your mouth.
The Symptoms of Untreated Diabetes
The warning signs of diabetes affect every part of your body. After a blood test, you may be told by a doctor that you have high blood sugar. You may feel excessively thirsty or have to urinate a lot. Weight loss and fatigue are other common symptoms. Diabetes can also cause you to lose consciousness if your blood sugar falls too low.
If diabetes is left untreated, it can take a toll on your mouth as well. Here’s how:
- You may have less saliva, causing your mouth to feel dry. (Certain medications also cause dry mouth.)
- Because saliva protects your teeth, you’re also at a higher risk of cavities.
- Gums may become inflamed and often bleed (gingivitis).
- You may have problems tasting food.
- You may experience delayed wound healing.
- You may be susceptible to infections inside of your mouth.
- For children with diabetes, teeth may erupt at an age earlier than is typical.
Why People with Diabetes Are More Prone to Gum Disease
All people have more tiny bacteria living in their mouths now than people on this planet. If they make their home in your gums, you can end up with the periodontal disease. This chronic, inflammatory disease can destroy your gums, all the tissues holding your teeth and even your bones.
Periodontal disease is the most common dental disease affecting diabetes, affecting nearly 22% of those diagnosed. Especially with increasing age, poor blood sugar control increases gum problems. People with diabetes are at a higher risk for gum problems because of poor blood sugar control. As with all infections, severe gum disease may cause blood sugar to rise. This makes diabetes harder to control because you are more susceptible to infections and can less fight the bacteria invading the gums.
How Your Dentist Can Help You Fight Diabetes
Regular dental visits are essential. Research suggests that treating gum disease can help improve blood sugar control in patients living with diabetes, decreasing the progression of the disease. Practising good oral hygiene and having professional deep cleanings done by your dentist can help to lower your HbA1c. (This is a lab test that shows your average level of blood sugar over the previous three months. It indicates how well you are controlling your diabetes.)
Your Diabetes Dental Health Action Plan
Teamwork involving self-care and professional care from your dentist will be beneficial in keeping your healthy smile and potentially slowing the progression of diabetes. Here are five oral health-related things you can do for optimal wellness:
- Control your blood sugar levels. Use your diabetes-related medications as directed; changing to a healthier diet and even exercising more can help. Reasonable blood sugar control will also help your body fight any bacterial or fungal infections in your mouth and help relieve dry mouth caused by diabetes.
- Avoid smoking.
- If you wear any dentures, clean them each day.
- Make sure to brush twice a day with a soft brush and clean between your teeth daily.
- See your dentist for regular checkups.
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