What do brushing and flossing have to do with diabetes? It’s easy to think they’re unrelated, but surprisingly diabetes has a big impact on dental health.
Diabetes affects your body’s ability to process sugar. In Type 1 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 2 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 including your mouth.
If you or a family member has Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, managing blood sugar level is very important. The higher your blood sugar level, the higher your risk of:
- Tooth decay (cavities). Your mouth naturally contains many types of bacteria. When starches and sugars in food and beverages interact with these bacteria, a sticky film known as plaque forms on your teeth. The acids in the plaque attack the surface of your teeth and this can lead to cavities.
The higher your blood sugar level, the greater the supply of sugars and starches — resulting in more acid attacking your teeth.
- Early gum disease (gingivitis). Diabetes reduces your body’s ability to fight bacteria. If you don’t remove plaque with regular brushing and flossing, it will harden onto your teeth into a substance called tartar (calculus). The longer plaque and tartar remain on your teeth, the more they irritate the gingiva — the part of your gums around the base of your teeth. In time, your gums will become swollen and bleed easily. This is gingivitis. Because swollen gums bleed easily when you brush, there is a tendency to brush less thoroughly and the problems will worsen.
- Advanced gum disease (periodontitis). Left untreated, gingivitis can lead to a more serious infection called periodontitis, which destroys the soft tissue and bone that support your teeth. Eventually, periodontitis causes your gums and jawbone to pull away from your teeth, which in turn causes your teeth to loosen and possibly fall out.
Periodontitis tends to be more severe among people who have diabetes because diabetes lowers the ability to resist infection and slows healing. An infection such as periodontitis may also cause your blood sugar level to rise, which in turn makes your diabetes more difficult to control. Preventing and treating periodontitis can help improve blood sugar control.
The good news is that prevention is in your hands. Learn what you’re up against, and then take charge of your dental health. To help prevent long-term damage to your teeth and gums, you must take both your diabetes and your dental care seriously:
- Make a commitment to manage your diabetes. Monitor your blood sugar level, and follow your doctor’s instructions for keeping your blood sugar level within your target range. The better you control your blood sugar level, the less likely you are to develop gingivitis and other dental problems.
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day. Brush in the morning, at night and, ideally, after meals and snacks. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and toothpaste that contains fluoride. Avoid vigorous or harsh scrubbing, which can irritate your gums. Consider using a good electric toothbrush such as a Braun Oral B or a Sonicare. Be sure to change your toothbrush at least every three months or whenever the bristles are out of line.
- Floss your teeth at least once a day. Flossing helps remove plaque between your teeth and under your gumline. If you have trouble getting floss down between your teeth, use the waxed variety as the extra lubrication allows it to slide in and out more easily.
- Schedule regular dental visits. Visit us at 12 Brock Avenue North at least twice a year for a thorough exam and a professional cleaning.
- Make sure your dentist knows you have diabetes. Besides informing us of any changes in your medical conditions including the current state of your diabetes, make sure that we also have the contact information for your doctor who helps you manage your diabetes.
- Look for early signs of gum disease. Report any signs of gum disease — including redness, swelling and bleeding gums — to those of us on your dental team. Also mention any other signs and symptoms, such as dry mouth, loose teeth or mouth pain.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking increases the risk of serious diabetes complications, including gum disease. If you smoke, ask your doctor about options to help you quit.
Managing diabetes is a lifelong commitment, and that includes proper dental care. Your efforts will be rewarded with a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums. We are here to help you deal with the complications and side effects of your diabetes and to help educate you about what is involved with maintaining your mouth in a healthy state.
With help from the Mayo Clinic website