Diabetes and Dental Health

Dental care is very important
Good dental care is very important to maintain healthy teeth and gums; it can also contribute to your overall general health.

For people living with diabetes, problems with teeth and gums can be more common, so good dental health is important to prevent dental complications developing. Looking after your teeth and gums is an essential part of learning to live with both type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.

You should inform your dentist if you have either new-onset or long-standing diabetes as this might affect the course of your dental treatment.

Diabetes and dental hygiene

People with diabetes who have poor control of their blood glucose levels are more likely to develop dental health problems. Therefore keeping your blood sugar within a normal range will reduce this risk. Eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise and giving up smoking is also advised to lessen the risk of oral health problems.

Making sure that you visit a dentist every six months ensures that any infection will be treated as early as possible. Minor dental problems can quickly escalate, and a routine visit to the dentist will pick up on these.

In the UK, although people with diabetes are more prone to dental problems, they do not receive any extra financial help for dental treatment.

What are the symptoms of dental health problems?

  • Sore or swollen gums
  • Bleeding gums
  • Receding gums
  • Loose teeth
  • Bad breath

You should visit your dentist if you experience any of these symptoms; urgent treatment might be required to prevent a problem from worsening.

Diabetes and gum diseases

Having prolonged high blood glucose levels can increase the risk of oral health problems, such as gum disease.

Gum disease, also known as periodontitis, is the sixth most common disease in the world. It occurs when bacteria within the mouth begins to form into a sticky plaque which sits on the surface of the tooth.

Gum disease is classified on the severity of its development. There are three stages of gum disease:

  1. Gingivitis: Gingivitis is the mildest form of gum disease, and is characterised by swollen, red or tender gums. This can cause bleeding during standard dental health care routines such as brushing and flossing. Gingivitis can usually be treated by a dentist, and by following a home dental health care program
  2. Periodontitis (Mild): Untreated gingivitis can lead to mild periodontitis. At this stage the bone around the tooth will begin to erode. In order to prevent further erosion prompt medical attention is required
  3. Periodontitis (Severe): This is the most advanced stage of gum disease, characterised by significant tissue and bone loss around the teeth

Having prolonged high blood glucose levels can lead to gum disease developing or worsening more quickly, but keeping your levels within a normal range reduces the risk of infection spreading.

Unfortunately, when your body begins to fight an infection, blood glucose levels will usually rise in response. Should the infection in your mouth become worse, you could have problems with food intake, which might affect your diabetes management.

Your dentist can help you with your diabetes if you have developed gum disease or another mouth infection.

Thrush

Thrush of the mouth is also more common among people with diabetes who have poor blood sugar control. Signs of oral thrush include white patches within the mouth and cracking of the skin at the corner of the lips.

Dental treatment and blood sugar levels

If dental work requires you to take special precautions (such as not eating for a short period), you should ensure that this won’t affect your treatment regime.

If you are on medication that can lead to hypos, such as insulin or sulphonylureas, speak with your dentist or your doctor to see if your medication will need to be modified before the dental work.

High blood sugar levels may affect the time the teeth and gums take to heal. If dental work is taking an unusually long time to heal, you should immediately contact your diabetes healthcare team or dentist for advice.

Dental hygiene, diabetes, and heart problems

Diabetes can lead to excess cholesterol building up in the bloodstream, raising the risk of heart disease.

A number of studies have linked higher rates of heart disease with gum disease, but researchers are yet to find conclusive evidence that poor dental health directly impacts on heart health.

However, improved dental health will reduce oral infections and consequently help to keep your blood glucose levels within a normal range.

Dental hygiene tips and facts

These 10 tips and facts will help you to maintain good dental hygiene:

  1. Brush your teeth last thing at night and at one other time in the day; the most important brush is the one at the end of the day
  2. Fluoride in toothpaste keeps the teeth strong and prevents dental decay
  3. To prevent dental decay you should reduce the frequency of sugary snacks and carbonated drinks
  4. After brushing spit out don’t rinse the excess toothpaste – this will keep the active ingredients of the toothpaste on your teeth
  5. The mechanics of brushing your teeth makes it more effective at removing dental plaque and maintaining healthy gums than using mouthwash
  6. You should use interdental brushes or floss once a day to remove the plaque from in-between your teeth
  7. Water is the only drink that is advised to take to bed at night
  8. A timer can be useful to make sure you brush for a full 2 minutes
  9. If you are diagnosed with gum (periodontal) disease, your blood sugar control may be more difficult to manage, but effective gum treatment can help to improve it
  10. Your teeth and gums should be checked by a dentist at least once a year; they will advise how regularly you should attend the dentist or hygienist

Visiting the dentist

Many of us become a little anxious before a dentist appointment but don’t be tempted to put off a dentist visit. If some treatment is needed, it will be less serious than if the treatment is put off.

Make sure your dentist knows you have diabetes as they may need to take this into account when they give advice or recommend treatment.

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