Diabetes is a complex condition, which is increasingly common in the United States. Per the CDC, currently around one in ten Americans have diabetes and one in three Americans are pre-diabetic, meaning that they’re on their way to having the disease. As medical professionals frequently point out, diabetes affects many aspects of overall health, including oral health. So what is the connection between oral health and diabetes? What impact will diabetes or pre-diabetes have on our teeth, mouth, and gums? It’s worth understanding both the nature of diabetes and the impact it can have on your dental health.
What Does Diabetes Do To Your Oral Health?
Brutally oversimplified, diabetes is a condition in which the body has difficulty managing blood sugar levels. While this can have a myriad of effects on our health, in terms of oral health there some important impacts diabetes may have:
- Diabetes may lead the mouth to produce less saliva, leading to a condition called dry mouth.
- Diabetes may lead to inflamed or bleeding gums, which can be an early sign of gum disease and leave the gums prone to infection.
- Diabetes may lead to white spots on the gums, tongue, or inside of the cheek.
- Patients with diabetes may find that cuts or sores in the mouth take longer to heal.
While these conditions may not sound that serious, they can in fact lead to real problems. Dry mouth may lead to tooth damage, as the enamel of the tooth weakens and cavities take hold. This in turn may lead to permanent tooth damage or tooth loss. Inflamed or bleeding gums may be the first stage of gum disease, which may result in receding gums, tooth loss, or–if it progresses far enough–infections in other parts of the body. Gum disease can complicate everything from heart disease to COVID-19 and post-COVID symptoms. Cuts or sores inside the mouth can introduce infection, which can cause lasting damage to the gums.
The take-home bulletin is that diabetes can have serious ramifications for our oral health, in addition to the other serious effects it can have on the body. So what can we do about it?
Managing Your Oral Health When You Have Diabetes
The first step in managing your oral health vis a vis diabetes is to ensure that you’re managing your diabetes properly. That’s far too complex and too personal a subject for us to cover here, but you should pay attention to the advice your doctor and dentist give you about diet and lifestyle.
As far as taking care of your oral health when you have diabetes, there are a number of steps you should take:
- First and foremost, make sure your dentist knows that you have diabetes. They may want more information about your condition and may request the ability to contact your primary care physician about it.
- Regular brushing and flossing is always a key component in oral health, but especially so when you’re diabetic. Flossing and brushing after every meal go a long way towards helping keep your teeth and gums at their best.
- Following a healthy diet is likewise always important, but for people with diabetes, it’s especially so. Your doctor and dentist can guide you as to what you should eat and the best ways to keep your teeth healthy with good eating habits.
- Limiting alcohol and giving up smoking is important for all patients, but it’s absolutely vital that patients with diabetes do both.
- Finally, patients with diabetes need to be especially vigilant about any emerging changes or problems with their oral health. If you experience bleeding gums, dry mouth, sores inside the mouth, loosening teeth, or any other noticeable change, notify your dentist right away.
The good news is that for many patients, diabetes is a manageable condition. You can follow these links for further tips for understanding or managing diabetes or ways to limit your chances of developing the condition.