Most people know that diabetes can have a negative health impact on eyes, feet, kidneys, and heart. But did you know that diabetes could also affect your mouth? According to the American Diabetes Association, people with diabetes are more prone to oral health problems such as gingivitis (early gum disease) and periodontitis (serious gum disease). In fact, gum disease has been recognized as an important health issue for people with diabetes.
Studies also show that tooth loss is up to 2 times more frequent in people with diabetes than those without the disease. Dry mouth from reduced saliva due to uncontrolled diabetes can lead to complications such as cavities, mouth soreness, mouth ulcers, and infections from an overgrowth of bacteria.
The Diabetes Gum-Disease Loop
Problematic oral health can put you in an ongoing cycle that may affect your ability to control diabetes and to keep a healthy mouth. Here’s why: Not keeping diabetes blood sugar under control may actually make gum disease more likely. This can cause decay, oral infections, tooth loss, and a variety of other dental problems. And vice-versa, serious gum disease can actually increase blood sugar. To stop this unhealthy cycle, talk to your doctor and dentist about managing your diabetes and oral health.
What You Can Do
First and foremost, control your blood sugar levels and take proper care of your mouth, gums, and teeth. Here are some health tips:
- Keep your blood glucose numbers as close to your target as possible. Your doctor will help you set your target blood glucose numbers and teach you what to do if your numbers are too high or too low.
- Floss and brush twice daily using a soft-bristled brush or a power toothbrush for enhanced plaque removal.
- Brush your tongue to remove oral debris and bacteria.
- If you wear dentures, clean them daily and remove at night.
- Sip on water and use saliva replacement products to combat dry mouth. You can also chew sugarless gum or mints to stimulate saliva flow.
- Keep a healthy, balanced diet. Consider working with a registered dietitian for a personalized meal plan.
- Stop smoking right away if you haven’t quit the habit. Smoking makes gum disease worse.
- Visit your dentist regularly; 2 or more visits/year may be recommended. And be sure to let your oral-health team know that you have diabetes.
It’s important to work with your entire diabetes healthcare team—including your dentist—for comprehensive care, and to aim to keep your blood sugar levels at their targeted goal!
Lori Stockert is a Medical Affairs Director in the North American Rheumatology group at Pfizer.