If you’re diabetic, you have a lot to deal with already. From watching your diet and managing an exercise routine, to keeping insulin levels on track, and even ensuring that you have sufficient blood flow to your feet, it probably seems like there’s enough on a diabetic’s plate. But unfortunately, it’s important to make room for one more concern: Oral health.
Diabetes Puts Your Mouth at Risk
Your mouth is a complex little world with a number of unique functions, all of which are necessary to keep your tissues, teeth, and gums healthy and in working order. Diabetes can threaten some of those functions, putting you at risk of everything from cavities to tooth loss.
There are two primary ways that diabetes can negatively impact oral health: Gum disease, and dry mouth. Researchers have repeatedly linked periodontal disease, more casually called gum disease, to diabetes. In fact, some studies have even indicated that that relationship may be bidirectional – meaning that having gum disease could actually increase your risk of developing diabetes.
Gum disease starts out fairly non-threateningly as gingivitis, which is simply inflammation: Reddened gums, perhaps a bit swollen, and with a stronger tendency to bleed than normal. But if this is left untreated, it develops into something much more serious: Periodontitis. During this stage, the gums will pull away from the teeth, creating pockets that fill with bacteria. As the infection spreads below the gumline, the roots of your teeth begin to break down, ultimately leading to tooth loss. And of course, any infection, if untreated, can spread to other areas of the body.
But gum disease isn’t the only threat that diabetes can level against your oral health. Dry mouth is a common symptom of diabetes, and can highly increase the risk of developing cavities. Dry mouth is exactly what it sounds like: The mouth doesn’t produce enough saliva, which normally plays a role in washing food debris and bacteria off of your teeth throughout the day. Saliva also neutralizes acid in foods or produced by bacteria. If you have dry mouth, your saliva can’t do its job of protecting your teeth, and the risk of decay skyrockets.
How Can Diabetics Fight Back?
The good news is, while being diabetic may mean your oral health is at risk, it doesn’t have to mean that your oral health will suffer. It’s simply extra important that diabetics care for their teeth well.
Step one to good oral health care is excellent day-to-day hygiene. That means brushing your teeth twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and a fluoride toothpaste, and flossing daily. But not all of your dental health care can happen at home. It’s also imperative that you see your dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings.
Your dentist will be best equipped to help you if they are fully informed about your oral health situation. That means that if you do have diabetes, that’s something your dentist should know. With that understanding, your dentist can ensure that together, you work out the best possible plan to protect your mouth from the risks that diabetes offers.