Every year, millions of men and women in North America are affected by diabetes. Those who have been diagnosed with it understand that it can cause problems with various body parts and systems including the nerves, eyes, kidneys and the heart. There are a number of oral health problems that dentists associate with diabetes as well. These issues can include:
- Gum disease
- Fungal infections
- Inflammatory skin/gums
- Changes in your taste buds
- Increased infection and delayed healing
- Salivary gland issues
- Tooth decay
Diabetes + High Glucose Levels: An Environment Just Right for Bacteria
When a diabetic is not in control of their disease, glucose levels in their saliva can rise – helping bacteria in the mouth thrive. Brushing twice each day and flossing can help mitigate this and remove the plaque that can lead to tooth decay. In some cases, typically where brushing habits aren’t consistent, plaque that isn’t removed will harden. When it hardens, the plaque calcifies into tartar. Not only is tarter harder to remove in general, it can be next to impossible to brush and clean between teeth. At this point, chronic inflammation and possible infection are not far behind.
You should visit your dentist immediately if you see any of the following:
- Gums that are red, tender or swollen
- Receding gums (gums that have pulled away from your teeth)
- Bad breath that won’t go away
- Teeth that are loose or separating from other teeth
- Any changes in your bite or the way your teeth touch when you mouth is closed
- Changes in how your partial dentures fit inside your mouth
Diabetes and Fungal Infections in the Mouth
Everybody’s mouth contains some level of bacteria, viruses and fungi, but brushing and your body’s natural defenses keep them under control. In some situations, your body’s defenses are unable to control the bacteria viruses and fungi. For people with diabetes, this could mean a bout of oral candidiasis. Smoking, high blood glucose and those who take antibiotics are more likely to feel the effects of a fungal infection.
Thrush is another possible result of high glucose levels in the mouth. The white or red patches can be sore – and even progress into ulcers and impact your ability to swallow and taste foods.
Most of the above can be avoided with proper oral hygiene, and if an infection exists, your dentist can prescribe medications that fight the infection and get your oral health back on-track.
Caring for Your Teeth When You Have Diabetes
Proper oral care is important whether or not your have diabetes. If you do have diabetes, caring for your teeth and mouth takes on even greater importance.
It’s very important to let your dentist know if you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes. But beyond that, let your dentist know the following, too:
- The names of all prescription and over-the counter medications you are taking to control your diabetes
- Other changes in your medical history or current health
- If you have your diabetes under control and, if so, how
Regular checkups are important – especially for diabetics – for spotting and treating problems before damage is done. Your dentist may recommend more frequent screenings if you’re diabetic, and they may have you use mouth rinse that’s anti-microbial and specially-formulated toothpaste that controls gingivitis.
Watch for signs or any sort of oral disease and contact your dentist right away when any of the issues we’ve discussed here arise. Good oral maintenance and following the advice of your doctor and dentist will go along way to maintaining your teeth and overall oral health as a diabetic.