If you have diabetes, you already know that the disease affects the body in numerous ways. The gums and teeth are no different. For some patients, your dentist may even be the first to notice diabetes symptoms. Here are a few things you should know about the connection between diabetes and your dental health.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease in which the blood sugar, or blood glucose, is too high. This is because the body does not produce sufficient insulin or because the body is unable to utilize insulin properly.
Patients with type 1 diabetes are typically diagnosed as children or young adults. For these patients, the immune system attacks the cells within the pancreas that produce insulin, so the body is not able to produce sufficient insulin.
Type 2 diabetes can occur in patients of any age and is caused by the body failing to produce or use insulin well.
How Does Diabetes Affect Dental Health?
There are a few ways that diabetes can affect the teeth and gums. Diabetes is associated with gum disease, which is also known as periodontal disease. This is an inflammatory process of the gums which causes the gums and jawbone to pull away from the teeth and lose attachment. Those with diabetes are at a higher risk because of a decreased ability to fight infection and heal properly.
Diabetic patients are also at a higher risk for tooth decay, or cavities. Due to high blood sugar levels, increased acids can erode the surfaces of the teeth, including enamel and dentin. This issue also causes gingivitis, a precursor to periodontal disease.
Thrush is also a concern for patients with diabetes. Thrush is a fungal infection that is caused by the yeast Candida albicans. Symptoms of thrush include white or red patches within the mouth which are painful. Diabetic patients should be especially careful with their dental hygiene routines to avoid thrush.
Finally, patients with diabetes often experience dry mouth due to a lack of sufficient saliva. Also known as xerostomia, dry mouth can lead to other dental problems including tooth decay, gum disease, or thrush, as the lack of saliva decreases your natural ability to cleanse the teeth throughout the day.
Symptoms to Look Out For
Symptoms of diabetes include excessive thirst, frequent urination, weight loss, and fatigue. In terms of dental symptoms, you may also experience dry mouth, inflammation or bleeding of the gums, difficulty tasting food, or poor wound healing within the mouth. Children with diabetes may also have teeth that erupt at an earlier age than average.
Dental Treatment Options for Diabetes
It’s key for patients to carefully manage their blood sugar levels to best avoid dental complications related to diabetes. Dr. Chern will also recommend that you have regular dental check-ups and cleanings. Maintaining good oral hygiene is an important way for diabetic patients to avoid issues including gum disease, cavities, and thrush, which they are at a higher risk for. Dr. Chern can also advise the best ways for you to maintain your oral hygiene through your regular, at-home routine. These include brushing your teeth at least twice a day, flossing at least once a day, and avoiding smoking.
How Often Should Diabetic Patients Visit the Dentist?
Patients with diabetes should visit the dentist at least twice a year for professional cleanings and check-ups. If you notice any symptoms such as inflammation of the gums, bleeding, or teeth becoming loose, schedule an appointment as soon as possible.
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By Dr. Inna Chern