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The Connection Between Diabetes & Oral Health

Diabetes & Oral Health

37.3 million Americans—about 1 in 10—have diabetes. Diabetes refers to a group of diseases that affect how the body uses glucose (blood sugar). Glucose is a source of energy that powers the brain and the cells that make up muscles and tissue. 

The main causes of diabetes vary depending on the type of diabetes a person has. However, regardless of the type, it can lead to excess sugar in the blood. Too much sugar in the blood can lead to health problems including issues with oral health. 

November is Diabetes Awareness Month and as such, a list of dental health concerns you need to know in case you or a loved one has been diagnosed with diabetes. If you have any specific questions or concerns, the Altoona Smiles team is more than happy to help. 

Diabetes-Related Conditions

Diabetes can contribute to several related conditions that affect the eyes, nerves, kidneys, and heart. Few doctors, however, often fail to share the effects that the condition and related medications can have on your teeth and mouth.

For instance, the most common dental health concern related to diabetes is periodontal disease or gum disease. Gum disease is an infection of the gums and bones that hold the teeth in place. Left untreated, a small infection can grow and cause pain, chronic bad breath, difficulty chewing, and even tooth loss. A periodontal specialist (periodontist) has completed years of additional training and research to treat such infections. At Altoona Smiles, our doctors are experienced in recognizing and treating such diseases. If the condition is too far along or requires specialized equipment, our doctors work with local periodontists who can provide further diagnostic analysis and treatment. With proper treatment, your beautiful smile can be restored and remain healthy.

Why Does Diabetes Affect the Mouth?

Many people do not realize that diabetes can slow your body’s natural healing response to pain and injury. This is one-way diabetes can affect your oral health. As minor issues inevitably present themselves, the inability to self-heal can quickly develop into more serious conditions that cannot be healed with medication or dental intervention.

Those with diabetes are also at a higher risk of dry mouth and thrush (a fungal infection). Having a dry mouth can lead to ulcers, infections, and tooth decay. In combination with increased sugar levels in your saliva, you set the perfect opportunity for a fungal infection such as thrush. Thrush by itself is usually not harmful and can be treated with a mild antifungal medication. However, if left untreated, the fungal infection can lead to serious complications.

5 Signs You of Gum Disease

Gum disease can happen to anyone. However, if you have diabetes, you are at an increased risk of developing gum disease. As such, it is important to know and notice the signs of gum disease.

1. Bleeding gums – While some bleeding may occur if you are brushing or flossing too hard, periodontal disease can cause noticeably more bleeding and is often paired with swollen or sensitive gums.

2. Dry mouth – Dry mouth isn’t a symptom, but a precursor to gingivitis. If you are experiencing dry mouth because of medication or other life changes, talk to our team and find out what you can do to prevent gum disease.

3. White Patches – White patches can be a sign of gingivitis or other fungal diseases. These patches can develop on your gums, the insides of your cheeks, beneath the tongue, and even on your tongue.

4. Bad Taste – An unpleasant taste is another symptom of gum disease. Some patients describe the taste as bitter, metallic, or sour. You may find that it goes away after you brush your teeth, but only for a few hours before it returns. 

5. Bad Smell – Chronic bad breath is a tell-tale sign of gum disease. Gum and mints will only mask the scent but never make it disappear.

Tips to Prevent Gum Disease with Diabetes

Good blood glucose levels are the key to controlling and preventing many of the issues that stem from diabetes. Those with poor blood sugar levels tend to develop gum disease more often and more severely than others with well-monitored blood sugar levels. If you have diabetes, be sure to:

  • Monitor your blood sugar levels

  • Brush 2x per day and floss regularly

  • Schedule regular dental cleanings & checkups.

  • Talk to your dentist about diabetes and any concerns

  • Tell your doctor if you are experiencing any symptoms of gum disease or sensitivity in your teeth or gums

  • Quit Smoking. Smoking can cause dry mouth and make existing gum disease worse.

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