When diabetes goes untreated, it takes a toll on your mouth. One in five cases of tooth loss is linked to diabetes. Periodontal disease, the most common dental disease, affects nearly a quarter of those diagnosed with diabetes.
Why are people with diabetes more prone to gum disease? The mouth is populated by millions of bacteria, and a high-sugar environment is an ideal place for bacteria to thrive. If they camp out in your mouth, the bacteria can cause periodontal disease. This chronic inflammatory condition can destroy your gums, all the tissues holding your teeth and can even eat into your bones.
Individuals with diabetes are more susceptible to infections inside the mouth. Like all infections, serious gum disease may cause blood sugar to rise. This makes diabetes harder to control because you are less able to fight the bacteria attacking the gums, which can become inflamed, bleed and lead to gingivitis.
What is type 1 diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. As a result, the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Type 1 diabetes is also characterized by the presence of certain autoantibodies against insulin or other components of the insulin-producing system such as glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD), tyrosine phosphatase, and/or islet cells.
When the body does not have enough insulin to use the glucose that is in the bloodstream for fuel, it begins breaking down fat reserves for energy. However, the breakdown of fat creates acidic by-products called ketones, which accumulate in the blood. If enough ketones accumulate in the blood, they can cause a potentially life-threatening chemical imbalance known as ketoacidosis.
Type 1 diabetes often develops in children, although it can occur at any age. Symptoms include unusual thirst, a need to urinate frequently, unexplained weight loss, blurry vision, and a feeling of being tired constantly. Such symptoms tend to be acute.
Diabetes is diagnosed in one of three ways – a fasting plasma glucose test, an oral glucose tolerance test, or a random plasma glucose test – all of which involve drawing blood to measure the amount of glucose in it.
Visit your dentist
It’s important to visit your dentist at least twice a year for regular cleanings and checkups. Studies show that treating gum disease can help improve blood sugar control in patients living with diabetes, decreasing the progression of the condition. Practicing good oral hygiene and having regular professional cleanings can help lower your A1C. Depending on the health of your gums, your dentist may have you come back more often for cleanings.
The American Dental Association recommends brushing twice a day for two minutes, using toothpaste with fluoride. While the dental association doesn’t recommend one toothbrush over another, many experts recommend powered toothbrushes. While they are more expensive than manual toothbrushes, they offer several advantages. These toothbrushes often include a timer feature to help remind people to continue brushing for two full minutes. Some even feature a pressure indicator light to let patients know when they’re brushing too hard and possibly damaging their gums.
Dentists also recommend that people floss once a day to remove food and plaque in between the teeth and along the gums. If you don’t like floss, try an interdental device — a tiny brush to get at crevices that are hard to reach with toothbrushes. To fight off bacterial buildup, rinse your mouth with antibacterial mouthwash. Swish the mouthwash for about 30 seconds and even gargle for a few seconds to help remove more bacteria.
Want to learn more about oral health for diabetes? Read “Diabetes and Oral Health: What’s Their Relationship?” “Disease, Treatment, and Oral Health,” and “Choosing Dental Care.”