When you have diabetes, high blood sugar can affect your whole body—including your mouth. People with diabetes are more likely to have oral health problems like cavities and gum disease. However, controlling your diabetes will go a long way toward prevention, keeping your teeth and gums healthy.
So how does diabetes affect oral health? And more specifically, how does diabetes cause oral health problems? The answer has to do with blood sugar. If blood sugar is poorly controlled, it can weaken your body’s white blood cells, which are the body’s main defense against bacterial infections in your mouth. In the same way that managing your diabetes can protect you from major organ complications—including eye, heart, and nerve damage—keeping your blood sugar in check can also protect you from developing oral health issues.
Diabetes increases your risk of oral health problems like:
How are diabetes and tooth decay connected? First, let’s take a look at how decay happens. When the bacteria in your mouth interact with sugars and starches, they create a sticky film of plaque on your teeth. The acids in this plaque then attack the surfaces of your teeth, which can lead to cavities and gum disease. When diabetes is not controlled, high levels of glucose in your saliva can increase plaque build up—which means there’s more acid wearing away at your teeth—and a higher likelihood of decay.
Diabetes reduces your ability to fight bacteria. If you’re not brushing and flossing enough, plaque can build up on teeth and under the gum line, eventually hardening into tartar (also called calculus). The longer plaque and tartar stay on your teeth, the more they irritate your gums, causing them to become red, swollen, and bleeding easily. This is the first stage of periodontal (gum) disease, called gingivitis. Untreated gingivitis can progress into periodontitis, a more serious infection that destroys the tissues and bones that support your teeth.
Periodontitis is often more severe for people with diabetes, as diabetes lowers their ability to fight and heal from infection. In addition, periodontitis can raise blood sugar levels, making it harder to control diabetes.
Some people with diabetes experience dry mouth (or xerostomia), which happens when the salivary glands in your mouth don’t produce enough saliva. This not only causes an uncomfortably dry mouth, but can also increase your risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
Thrush, a fungal infection caused by the yeast Candida albicans, is more common in people with diabetes; high sugar levels create better conditions for yeast to grow. Symptoms of thrush include painful white or red patches inside your mouth.
To help prevent these issues, it’s important to manage your diabetes and commit to a consistent oral hygiene routine. Monitor your blood sugar level and follow your doctor’s instructions for keeping it within your target range. Brush twice daily, floss at least once a day, and come in for regular cleanings at Cottonwood Dental.
It’s in your hands to prevent diabetes dental problems. Managing diabetes is a lifelong endeavor, but it’s so worth it to keep your mouth and body healthy. If you have any questions about diabetes dental care, please don’t hesitate to contact us. And remember to visit Dr. Giaquinto regularly to safeguard your oral health.