More than 30 million people in the United States had diabetes in 2015, according to the American Diabetes Association. Diabetes is a condition in which your body has trouble processing sugar, also known as glucose. Those who suffer from diabetes either do not produce insulin, or their bodies can’t use insulin efficiently. Diabetes can cause harm to your eyes, kidneys, nerves, and heart, but did you know that it could also cause oral health problems?
Types of Diabetes
There are two main types of diabetes: Type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes often onsets during childhood and is caused by a pancreas that does not make enough or any insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps “unlock” your muscle cells so that they can absorb glucose, or sugar, from the bloodstream. This type of diabetes can be life-threatening if left untreated and is often referred to as insulin-dependent diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, often caused by diet and or lifestyle, the body cells do not respond to insulin, so the cells do not absorb the glucose.
When body cells do not absorb the sugar, the glucose begins to accumulate to high levels in the bloodstream. High glucose levels, also known as hyperglycemia, are the main characteristic of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes symptoms and type 2 diabetes symptoms are similar and often include the following:
- Increased thirst
- Urinating frequently
- Unintended weight loss
- Extreme hunger
- Mood changes and irritability
- Weakness or fatigue
- Blurred vision
People with diabetes use diet, exercise, and medication or insulin pumps to control blood sugar. However, even with these measures, blood sugar levels may be difficult for some to control. Oral health problems are more likely to develop with poorly controlled blood sugar. In other words, the higher your blood sugar levels stay, the more likely you are to develop oral health problems.
Common Oral Health Problems Caused by Diabetes
Untreated or poorly maintained diabetes and the resulting high blood sugar can negatively affect tissues throughout your body, including the tissues in your mouth. This is because blood sugar levels in the body help regulate your saliva, gum health, and other aspects of your oral health. The following are common problems for those with untreated or poorly maintained diabetes:
- Dry Mouth - Untreated diabetes can cause a lack of saliva. Saliva in your mouth helps inhibit bacteria growth. A dry mouth can lead to tooth decay and bad breath because of the overgrowth of bacteria that a lack of saliva allows.
- Slow Wound Healing - High blood sugar can slow circulation, which means red and white blood cells move slower through your blood vessels. Slow circulation from high blood sugar causes wounds in your mouth to heal slowly or not heal at all. Hyperglycemia can weaken immune cells that protect your body from infections. This leaves your body vulnerable to infections nearly anywhere in your body, including infections in your mouth.
- Early Permanent Teeth in Children - Children with diabetes may have their adult teeth erupt faster than children without diabetes. This is a problem because the child’s jaw may not yet be large enough to accommodate the adult teeth, leading to tooth crowding, impacted teeth, or other orthodontic problems.
- Poor Gum Health - Poor gum health is the most common associated dental issue with diabetes. High blood sugar can lead to inflamed gums, gingivitis, and frequently periodontitis if left untreated. This is because high blood glucose creates an easier environment in which bacteria can grow and spread quickly, causing a negative impact on your gum health. Signs of gum disease include red, puffy or bleeding gums, receding gums, loose or separating teeth, sores in your mouth, and a change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite down.
How Your Gum Health and Diabetes Are Connected
The types of bacteria that cause gum disease thrive on sugars, meaning those with diabetes are more likely to have gingivitis or periodontal disease. If you suffer from gingivitis or periodontal disease, your blood sugar level will rise. The rise in blood sugar may be due to bacteria from gum disease leaking into the bloodstream when you chew food or brush your teeth. Your body reacts to the presence of bacteria in your bloodstream by producing powerful substances that affect the body in several ways, including raising your blood sugar levels. This is why many healthcare professionals recognize the relationship between gum disease and diabetes as a two-way street.
The ADA also says that compared with people with healthy gums, those with severe gum disease have higher long-term blood glucose levels. People with severe gum disease are also more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes and are more likely to have trouble controlling their blood glucose levels. It has also been found that those with severe gum disease and diabetes are at a higher risk of suffering harm from complications of diabetes, such as eye problems, kidney disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Ways to Keep Your Gums Healthy
Keeping your gums healthy can improve your oral health and help you manage your blood sugar levels. You can improve the health of your gums with a few lifestyle changes.
- If you do have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, you should always follow your doctor’s recommendations to keep your blood sugar levels in check. This will help prevent you from developing gingivitis.
- Practice good oral hygiene by brushing gently twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, and floss once daily to remove food and plaque from teeth and gums.
- Schedule professional teeth cleanings with your dentist to keep your gums in top health. Your dentist can also exam your teeth and gums for early signs of gum disease during your cleanings.
- Avoid tobacco products, as they can increase your risk of gum disease.
Understanding the connections between diabetes and oral health can help you manage both conditions. For more information on how diabetes affects your oral health, you can talk with your doctor and dentist for their professional recommendations.
Serving the North Raleigh area for 19 years, VP Dental is dedicated to treating each patient as an individual and focuses on total body health. The team stays current using the very latest in dental technology, wellness practices, and concierge dental care practices. Our goal is to create relationships that make people look and feel their best.