It’s super-important you take extra care of your oral health if you have diabetes. It’s easy to get sidetracked while you’re busy taking care of your condition, but neglecting your teeth while living with diabetes can be downright damaging for your teeth and gums.
Diabetes can make you prone to various oral health issues such as dry mouth, oral thrush, gum disease and tooth decay. Here’s what you need to know about diabetes and your oral health – and what to do to take care of yourself.
3 main types of diabetes
- Type I diabetes: is an autoimmune disease. Individuals don’t produce insulin and therefore must inject insulin several times per day.
- Type II diabetes – is related to diet, lifestyle and genetics. Fat accumulates around the liver, pancreas and body cells, preventing insulin from penetrating the fat and getting where it is needed. This is called insulin resistance – and it gets worse over time.
- Gestational diabetes – occurs when a woman is pregnant and can be controlled through diet, exercise and medication. Blood sugar levels usually return to normal after pregnancy, but individuals have an increased risk of developing type II diabetes.
Why does diabetes affect my oral health?
There are a few reasons why diabetes affects oral health. Suboptimal blood sugar levels (too much glucose) gives bacteria in the mouth more to feed off. This can cause problems with gum disease and tooth decay.
People with diabetes also often suffer from a dry mouth (xerostomia). Without enough saliva in the mouth, we can’t wash away troublesome bacteria, so again, we are predisposed to decay and infections.
Also, people living with diabetes heal more slowly than others, so it’s less likely to heal if an infection takes hold.
Oral health conditions
According to Better Health Channel, common oral health conditions affecting people living with diabetes include:
- Cavities (dental caries)
- Gum (periodontal) disease
- Dry mouth (xerostomia)
- Oral thrush
- Mouth ulcers and gum abscesses
- Lichen planus (an inflammatory autoimmune skins condition)
Diabetes & gum (periodontal) disease
Gum disease has two stages: gingivitis (reversible) and periodontal disease (not reversible) and must be managed. Gum disease slowly destroys the bone that holds our teeth in place until eventually, our teeth loosen or fall out.
If diabetes is left untreated, there is more sugar in the mouth which encourages bacterial growth. As healing is slower with diabetes, it’s challenging to manage any gum infection that starts. If the first stage of gum disease is left untreated, it will advance to periodontal disease. And, it’s a bit of a cycle. The more the infection increases, the more difficult it is to treat – and the more your blood sugar levels are likely to increase. So if you can manage to get on top of your gum disease, you will help stabilise blood sugar levels – and that in turn will make you respond to dental treatments and be more likely to heal.
To prevent gum disease, you’ll need to practice thorough oral hygiene at home. Brush twice a day with a soft bristle brush and fluoride toothpaste and floss at least once a day. You should also see your dental professional for regular oral hygiene checks and cleans. Speak to your dental professional regarding how frequent your visits should be.
Diabetes & tooth decay
Diabetes can be quite the breeding ground for tooth decay. People with diabetes have a dry mouth, so bacteria are not easily flushed away. And, as glucose levels can be high, bacteria can feed off the sugars. Consequently, dental plaque can build up on the teeth, which will lead to tooth decay and then cavities (caries).
To prevent tooth decay or cavities, practice thorough oral hygiene at home. Brush twice a day with a soft bristle brush and fluoride toothpaste and floss at least once a day. You should also see your dental professional for regular oral hygiene checks and cleanings. Speak to your dental professional regarding how frequent this should be.
Diabetes and oral thrush
Once again, diabetes creates the perfect breeding ground for infection – this time – fungal infection. The combined dry mouth (xerostomia) with increased glucose levels and a decreased ability to fight infection allows fungal infections to take hold. Oral thrush creates small red or white patches on the inside of the mouth, which can cause pain or ulcers. Good oral hygiene and regular dental checkups are once again imperative, and your dentist may prescribe antifungal medications.
Better Health Channel – Diabetes and Oral Health: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/diabetes-and-oral-health
Diabetes Australia -Dental Health: https://www.diabetesaustralia.com.au/living-with-diabetes/preventing-complications/dental-health/