Dr. Michael Handler

Diabetes and its Effects on Oral Health

By Dr. Michael Handler

The number of Canadians living with diabetes is expected to increase from 9.3% in 2015 to 12.1% in 2025, according to statistics from Diabetes Canada. Most of us know being diabetic can affect other aspects of our health, but what many people are unaware of is the impact diabetes has on oral health. Here’s why there’s a strong link between the disease and the state of your mouth.

Why Diabetes Impacts Oral Health Problems

The main cause of diabetes is high blood sugar. Whether a patient has type 1 or type 2 diabetes, the difference lies in the reason for the blood sugar being too high. Patients with type 1 don’t manufacture enough insulin to combat their sugar intake, and they usually need to inject insulin instead. Type 2 diabetics may produce some insulin, but it’s either not enough for their requirements, or their systems are resistant to it.

Untreated diabetes results in symptoms such as not enough saliva, which leads to a dry mouth. Saliva serves to protect your teeth and gums and keep them moist, and without it, you have a higher risk of developing cavities. Dried-out gums become inflamed and bleed, and you can develop bacterial infection in the wounds.

Healing is generally slower for diabetics, too, partly because their immune system is weakened by the condition, and partly because their blood may circulate more slowly. This causes it to take longer to reach the areas that need healing.

All these points mean if you’re at risk for being prediabetic, having insulin resistance or full diabetes of either type, you’re at risk for dental problems you’d probably rather avoid.

Preventing Oral Problems Caused by Blood Sugar

Since you don’t have to actually be diabetic to develop oral health issues, it’s imperative that you get regular screening to ensure that your blood glucose is within the appropriate range for your age and state of health. If your family doctor insists on quarterly or bi-annual blood tests for everything under the sun, consider yourself fortunate. It means you’re more likely to be aware of any problems before they affect your dental health.

Patients who discover that they have diabetes-related conditions need to take extra precautions, however, to prevent these having an impact on their oral health. In addition to treatment for your diabetes, it’s important to:

  • Brush your teeth after every meal using a soft-bristled toothbrush. Hard brushing can cause damage to sensitive gums that results in open sores and infection. For denture wearers, rinse your dentures and mouth with water after every meal, and remove and clean them thoroughly every day using a specialised denture product.
  • Get your teeth and gums cleaned and checked by your dentist twice a year. Avoid the buildup of plaque on your teeth by using dental floss at least once a day. Give up smoking, which damages the surface of your teeth.
  • Make sure your dentist knows your diabetic status. Provide him or her with a list of all the medications you’re taking, including the dosages, as well as your family doctor’s contact information. Discuss postponing any dental work, especially surgery, if your blood sugar is temporarily unstable for any reason.

Bear in mind that you might take longer to heal from any dental issues than other people, and take care to follow your dentist’s instructions to the letter to avoid developing infection. Maintain your diabetic treatments at all times, to achieve the most stable blood sugar levels possible.

The Other Side of the Coin

It’s not only your diabetic status that can affect your oral health—the opposite is also true. Poor oral health, whatever the cause, can have negative consequences for your entire body. Gum disease can make diabetes more difficult to control, because bacteria from your mouth can easily enter the bloodstream and affect your compromised immune system. Periodontitis is also known to actually cause higher blood glucose levels, according to the American Dental Association.

Patients with any risk for diabetes or other conditions related to the immune system need to take extra care to maintain balanced health, which includes good oral and dental care.

For more information on the link between diabetes and oral health, please schedule an appointment with our dentist in Scarborough at 416-267-4661, or click here to book online.

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