Diabetes and Dental Health
Dental hygiene is an essential part of good health. For diabetics, problems with the teeth and gums can be more common and more serious than for the average person.
For this reason, if you have diabetes, dental care is even more important, but it does not mean that you have to adopt a new or different treatment regimen.
Being aware of how best to look after your teeth is an essential part of learning to live with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Remember to let your dentist know that you have diabetes as well.
Diabetes and gum diseases
Gum disease is a very common infection and occurs when bacteria within the mouth begins to form into a sticky plaque which sits on the surface of the tooth.
Over time, if this is not removed by regular brushing using the correct technique, a gum inflammation called gingivitis can develop.
Symptoms of gingivitis can include:
- Red and swollen gums
- Bleeding will often occur whilst brushing.
- Gum disease will stem from untreated gingivitis, and in turn the teeth will begin to decay.
One unfortunate side effect of diabetes and high blood glucose levels is the fact that any infection in or on the body will spread more easily.
Keeping blood glucose levels under control 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, your food intake could be affected, further affecting your diabetes.
Thrush of the mouth is also more common amongst people who have less well controlled blood glucose levels. Signs of oral thrush include white patches within the mouth and cracking of the skin at the corner of the lips.
Ways to ensure good dental hygiene as a diabetic
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 diabetic people are more prone to dental problems, they do not receive any extra financial help for dental treatment.
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 this will therefore help with keeping blood glucose stable and help maintain your wellbeing.
Diabetes, the toothbrush, and brushing techniques
A good quality toothbrush can make all the difference to a brushing routine. Toothbrushes should have soft nylon bristles with rounded ends. They should be used gently and feel comfortable in the hand. A dentist or hygienist will have advice about the best type of toothbrush to use.
Fluoride toothpaste will keep the teeth strong, and some toothpaste will take sensitive teeth into account. An anti-bacterial oral mouthwash may also be a good idea, but your dentist will be able to recommend one if so.
A balanced diet, regular exercise and, where relevant, adherence to your medication regime, remains the best way to keep blood sugar levels under control. Smoking can also speed up gum disease and can lead to the loss of teeth.
Visiting the dentist
Many of us become a little anxious before a dentist visit 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.
Dental treatment and blood sugar levels
If dental work requires you to take special precautions (such as not eating for a short period) ensure that this won’t affect your treatment regime.
If you are on medication that can lead to hypos, such as insulin or sulfonylureas, speak with your dentist or your doctor to see if your diabetic treatment regime 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 contact your diabetes healthcare team or dentist immediately for advice.