November is National Diabetes Month. In honor of diabetes awareness, consider the link between diabetes and oral health. Diabetes is very closely linked to overall health, and the two can have a big impact on one another. If you or someone you know is diabetic, take time to learn about this important connection.
Simply put, having diabetes increases the risk of gum disease and periodontitis, or serious gum disease. This is due in part to a diabetic person’s decreased ability to fight bacteria. If your blood sugar levels are not well under control, your ability to fight germs is compromised, making infection of any kind more likely. Other infections that can occur in your mouth include thrush (a mouth fungus overgrowth that causes an infection), dry mouth, ulcers and cavities. Serious gum disease can also affect your blood sugar levels, increasing the rate at which diabetes progresses.
What is Gum Disease?
Gum disease is caused by bacteria in your mouth. When gum disease becomes serious, your gums begin to pull away from your teeth, leaving pockets between the gums and teeth that can fill with bacteria and other germs. As the pockets grow deeper, the infection can spread and destroy the bones that hold your teeth in place. If this happens, surgery may be needed to preserve the teeth. Without treatment, teeth can loosen and may fall out.
Gum disease doesn’t happen overnight. Recognizing the warning signs and seeking treatment can prevent tooth loss from infection. Unfortunately, many of the warning signs of gum disease are painless. The most obvious signs are bleeding, swollen, or tender gums. Even if they don’t hurt, bleeding gums are an indication of an overgrowth of bacteria in your mouth, as are swollen or tender gums. If you notice that your teeth look longer, this may indicate that the gums are pulling away from the teeth, another sign of developing gum disease. If pressing on the gums produces pus or if adult teeth are loose or moving, this is also a sign of serious gum disease. Lastly, if you notice changes in your bite or the fit of dentures or bridges, you should speak with a dentist about gum disease.
The best way to prevent serious gum disease from developing is to see a dentist regularly, at least every six months. It’s also a good idea to see the same dentist, because then he or she can recognize subtle changes in your gums that may not be obvious if you are seeing different dentists each time you get your teeth cleaned. If you have serious gum disease, the dentist may recommend that you come in more often than every six months.
If you have diabetes, a well-regulated blood sugar level is your first defense against gum disease, and all other infections. Beyond that, brushing and flossing twice daily will help keep your mouth healthy, as will regular visits to the dentist. While at the dentist, be sure to discuss your diabetes and its relationship to good oral health. Diabetes can make you more susceptible to gum disease, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do. Heeding the warning signs and caring for your teeth and gums will help your mouth stay healthy for years to come.