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When you were diagnosed with diabetes, your life changed forever. Your diet changed drastically, and you may have started with insulin, medications, or both to manage your blood sugar. It’s taken time, but you eventually learned how to live healthily despite having a chronic disease.

But one little-known problem is the connection between diabetes and dental health. Your teeth and gums are extremely important to you, so you have to make sure your diabetes doesn’t ruin either. Before you can do that successfully, it’s important to understand the common oral health problems associated with diabetes, so you can work on keeping your mouth and teeth healthy.

Diabetes and Oral Health

You already know how diabetes can lead to problems with your eyes, feet, kidneys, and even your mood. But did you know uncontrolled diabetes can lead to dental problems? People with diabetes are three times more likely to have infections of the mouth and gums.

The National Institute of Health explains how these complications include:

1.Gum inflammation and periodontitis. Diabetes causes blood vessels to thicken, preventing the flow of inflammation fighting cells to the gums and mouth, increasing the risk of infections.

  1. An increased risk of poor wound healing in the mouth, since the body can no longer fight off infections or send sufficient blood to the injury site.
  2. Pain when chewing. Wounds and inflammation can cause pain when chewing. Diabetes and tooth problems can be common.
  3. Loose teeth. If the mouth becomes sufficiently inflamed and blood flow is slowed, this may eventually lead to tooth loss.
  4. Dry mouth. Uncontrolled diabetes can decrease salivary flow, leading to dry mouth. This can cause ulcers, infections, tooth decay and bad breath.
  5. Thrush. This is a fungal infection of the mouth and tongue that thrives on high levels of sugar caused by diabetes. Normally the body is able to fight off this type of infection, but when the immune system is not working well, then this becomes more difficult.

These examples emphasize why it is so important to keep your blood sugars under control. Without regular exercise, a low-carb, protein-rich diet, and maintaining regular communication with your doctor to manage your medications,, your diabetes can lead to a ruined smile.

General Diabetes and Dental Health Tips

Adequate management of blood sugars helps decrease potential complications from diabetes. Following instructions from your MD/RD, tracking your A1C, and practicing proper care and hygiene will help optimize your health. Here are some general tips that will help you manage both your diabetes and dental health.

  • Avoid sugary drinks: Juice/soda/energy drinks have the perfect combination of sugar and acid for bacteria to break down enamel and form cavities. These items also cause havoc when it comes to blood sugar control.
  • Drink lots of water: It replaces sugary drinks, washes cavity producing contents off your teeth and keeps you hydrated.
  • Track your carbohydrate intake: High carb intake leads to increased blood sugars and cavities.
  • Eat lots of crunchy fruits and veggies: They contain good sources of fiber and act as brushes to help scrape cavity producing content off your teeth.

Oral Hygiene and Diabetes

Then what can you do to help protect your teeth and gums from the negative side effects of diabetes for oral health? MouthHealthy.org a website from the American Dental Association lists several things you can do to keep teeth and gums healthy and prevent tooth loss:

  1. If you smoke, you have yet another reason to give up. Smoking hinders your immune system, leading to gum disease and infected teeth. It can also make inflammation worse which can make managing your diabetes more challenging.
  2. People with dentures need to take them out every night so the gums have time to rest and heal overnight. This can prevent mouth infections that may be difficult to heal once they appear.

3. Although you have probably heard this too many times already, watch what you eat. A low-carb diet can help you fight cavities as well as high blood sugar. Speak to your doctor or registered dietitian about which diet is best for you.

  1. Stay hydrated so you can fight dry mouth and help wash away excess glucose. Aim to drink at least 8 glasses of water per day or more if you are physically active or live in a hot climate.

Good oral hygiene is also important for healthy teeth and gums. MouthHealthy.org lists several things you can do at home daily to help maintain your oral health:

  1. Make sure you brush twice each day and floss every night after dinner.
  2. Look for a toothbrush with soft bristles and a small head. Soft bristles won’t damage enamel, while a smaller head lets you reach your back teeth more easily.
  3. Rinse with a mouthwash approved by the American Dental Association..
  4. See your dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups. They can help identify problems before they become severe.

By practicing good dental hygiene and keeping your appointments with your doctor and dentist, you can maintain a healthy smile, even with diabetes.

Dental Implants Can Help

Despite your best efforts, you can still wind up with damaged or missing teeth due to complications related to diabetes. Thankfully, there is a modern dental procedure that can help: Getting a dental implant. This is when you get a replacement tooth put in place of a tooth that needs to come out.

Dental implants have three parts:

  1. The replacement tooth is made to fit your smile specifically.
  2. An artificial root that mimics the root of your natural teeth.
  3. An abutment that connects the two.

A dental implant looks and feels natural, so it will be very hard to know you even have one.

Because diabetes makes it harder to heal, you might think that someone with diabetes cannot get a dental implant. However, studies show that although diabetic patients have a lower success rate, there is a very reasonable cumulative success rate of 85% after 6.5 years. Speak to your dentist if you think a dental implant may be an option for you.

Protect Your Smile From Diabetes

There are plenty of reasons to keep your diabetes under control, but your smile is a major one. To keep your body and teeth healthy, work on maintaining a stable blood sugar, and taking regular care of your teeth. If there is a problem, talk to your dentist or doctor to see if they can help reduce the risk of infection and help you keep all your teeth.

Protecting your teeth and body from the effects of diabetes can help you live a long and healthy life and have something to smile about.

 

 

 

 

References:

  1. Diabetes & Oral Health. Accessed October 6, 2021. https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/health-info/diabetes
  2. Preshaw PM, Alba AL, Herrera D, et al. Periodontitis and diabetes: a two-way relationship. Diabetologia. 2012;55(1):21-31.
  3. Diabetes and Teeth – American Dental Association. Accessed October 6, 2021. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/d/diabetes
  4. Fiorellini JP, Chen PK, Nevins M, Nevins ML. A retrospective study of dental implants in diabetic patients. Int J Periodontics Restorative Dent. 2000;20(4):366-373.

 

 

Jaime Rangel, RD

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