As you’re likely aware, diabetes is a disease that has many long-term complications. One of these is dental health. Because individuals with diabetes are at higher risk for infections, they also are more susceptible to many problems that affect the mouth and gums. These can range from oral and fungal infections to dry mouth and poor healing after dental procedures. When you think about the complications associated with diabetes, dental health may not rank high on the list, but frequent tooth decay often is one of the ways patients discover they have diabetes in the first place.
Program coordinator Dawn Hollaway from Blount Memorial Hospital’s Diabetes Management Center says this happens because diabetes reduces our resistance to infections. “Bacteria, viruses and fungi occur naturally in our mouths,” Hollaway said. “When diabetes is not under control, though, elevated sugar or glucose levels in our saliva may actually help bacteria to grow. The most-common oral health problems associated with diabetes include tooth decay, periodontal disease, salivary gland dysfunction, fungal infections and delayed healing. Periodontal diseases are infections of the gum and bone that hold the teeth in place. Periodontal disease is very common in people with diabetes, and young adults who have diabetes have twice the risk of developing gum disease compared to non-diabetics,” she explained. “Diabetic patients with uncontrolled blood sugar levels typically develop periodontal disease more severely and lose more teeth than patients who have their blood sugar levels under control,” she added.
“Oral candidiasis, or thrush, is a fungal infection in the mouth that also occurs more often in patients with diabetes,” Hollaway said. “Diminished saliva and an increase in glucose levels provide an environment for fungal infections such as thrush to grow. Some individuals with diabetes also experience a dry mouth as a symptom of their elevated blood sugar levels. Dry mouth can increase the risk of cavities as there is less saliva to wash away the germs and take care of the acids they create. If you are a diabetic and are experiencing dry mouth, the main thing to remember is to consume more fluids,” she explained. “You also can try chewing sugar-free gum or sugar-free candy to keep saliva the mouth,” she added.
Hollaway says if you have diabetes, you always should tell your dentist before scheduling your appointment. “Patients with diabetes need to see their dentist every six months for cleanings and routine checkups,” she said. “Also, remember to eat prior to your appointments because the optimal time for dentist appointments is when your blood sugar level is in normal range and the action of your diabetes medication is low. If you take insulin, a morning visit after a normal breakfast is the best time,” she explained. “When caring for your teeth, remember to brush and floss twice daily. You should brush for at least three minutes to make sure you’ve cleaned all of your teeth. Remember to choose oral care products that display the American Dental Association’s Seal of Acceptance. This is an important symbol of a dental product’s safety and effectiveness when the products are used as directed,” she said.
For more information about diabetes-related programs, contact diabetes program coordinator Dawn Hollaway at 865-977-5767.