Managing diabetes requires more than watching your diet and staying active. People with diabetes are at increased risk of troublesome dental problems like gingivitis and periodontal disease, making oral care an important part of living with diabetes. Read on to learn more about how diabetes impacts oral health and what you can do to keep your mouth healthy.
Diabetes and Oral Health
Diabetes impacts oral health primarily through the presence of glucose in saliva. When diabetes isn’t properly managed, salivary glucose increases and contributes to several serious oral health problems.
- Gingivitis: Heightened salivary glucose promotes the formation of plaque. When plaque develops on teeth, it introduces bacteria to the gum line and causes gingivitis. This condition causes tender, inflamed gums and can lead to periodontal disease if left untreated.
- Gum disease: Over time, bacteria in the mouth can cause gum disease, or periodontitis. Gum disease can result in permanent damage to the soft tissue and bones that support teeth, and may eventually lead to tooth loss.
- Dry mouth: The American Diabetes Association identifies dry mouth, or xerostomia, as a common symptom of diabetes. Saliva is responsible for neutralizing acid in the mouth and washing bacteria from teeth. Without enough saliva, the risk of oral thrush, rampant tooth decay, and gum disease spikes significantly.
- Thrush: Dry mouth combined with high glucose levels in saliva can result in thrush, an oral yeast infection that causes painful lesions inside the mouth. While thrush typically presents on the tongue and inside of cheeks, it can spread to the throat and esophagus, and in rare cases can become fatal.
Managing Oral Health with Diabetes
It’s clear that your mouth requires special attention when you live with diabetes, but what can diabetics do to protect their oral health?
- Brush, floss, and visit Los Gatos Dental Group regularly. The first step in fighting against diabetes-related oral health problems is maintaining good oral hygiene. Brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes each time. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and take special care to brush each tooth. Floss at least once per day to remove food particles lodged between teeth.
- Quit smoking. Smoking is a risk factor for gum disease, and combined with diabetes, it can significantly increase the odds of developing periodontal disease. According to the Center for Disease Control, smoking also impacts the effectiveness of insulin, making diabetes harder to control in smokers.
- Clean dentures daily. Since diabetes increases the risk of oral infections, denture wearers must be especially meticulous about keeping dentures clean. Ensure dentures fit properly to prevent sores. Dental implants are a smart alternative to dentures for diabetics with tooth loss, because they eliminate risks associated with ill-fitting or improperly cleaned dentures.
- Manage your blood glucose. Poorly controlled diabetes increases the glucose present in saliva, making the mouth more prone to developing plaque. Plaque causes bad breath, tooth decay, and gum disease.
Creating Good Oral Health Habits
Bad habits are hard to change, but for diabetics in particular, good dental practices are essential for long-term health.
If your brushing habits are inconsistent, schedule oral care into your daily routine. If you brush and floss at the same time every day — for example, after your morning shower and before you change for bed — it will eventually become second nature, rather than a chore.
Oral care isn’t just about how often you brush, but also how you do it. Ensure you’re cleaning the inner, outer, and biting surface of each tooth as well as your tongue with each brushing. If you struggle to brush thoroughly, try switching to an electric toothbrush. Electric toothbrushes make it easier to polish each tooth clean, and many models include timers to let you know when it’s time to switch to a different area of the mouth.
Staying on top of oral health care is essential for living well with diabetes. Whether you’re recently diagnosed or seeking to improve habits after years of living with the disease, you’ll benefit from making your oral health a priority.