The Diabetes and Oral Health Connection

November is American Diabetes Month®.

This marks an opportunity to educate about and ring the alarm on the diabetes epidemic. But it also allows us at Tecumseh Ridge Dental to speak about the link between diabetes and oral health.

It is a topic that should be very important to Oklahomans. Unfortunately, dental disease and diabetes have something in common in Oklahoma: We rank above US averages in prevalence for both.

Dental diseases are among the most prevalent health problems in Oklahoma. Oklahoma’s oral health statistics reflect a population with high rates of childhood tooth decay, adult tooth loss, and the absence of regular oral health appointments primarily due to cost.

Likewise, the percentage of the adult population with diabetes is higher than in the US. In Oklahoma, approximately 451,888 people in Oklahoma, or 14.3% of the adult population, have diabetes. In addition, 1,036,000 people in Oklahoma, 36.9% of the adult population, have prediabetes.

Furthermore, 29.1 million people in the United States have diabetes? That’s 9.3% of the population. Approximately 1.7 million new cases are diagnosed yearly, and 8.1 million people living with diabetes don’t even know they have it.

How are Dental Problems and Diabetes related?

Some oral conditions are more common in people with diabetes, such as dry mouth. It may be a result of aging or medications, but it could also be a complication of diabetes. Whatever the cause, the lack of saliva from dry mouth means food debris, sugar, acid, and bacteria don’t get washed away as quickly.

If you have diabetes, taking care of your teeth is even more critical. In addition, high blood sugar can weaken white blood cells, as they are your body’s primary way to fight infections that can occur in the mouth.

Moreover, if the sugar level is high in your blood, it’s high in your saliva too. Bacteria in plaque, a sticky film, use sugar as food. Some of these bacteria can cause tooth decay, cavities, and gum disease. If the tooth is not treated, it can also lead to tooth loss.

Gum disease can be more severe and take longer to heal if you have diabetes. If you have gum disease, your diabetes may be harder to manage.

How Diabetes can take its toll on your Oral Health:

  • You may have less saliva, causing your mouth to feel dry. (Certain medicines also cause dry mouth.)
  • Your gums may become inflamed and bleed more often (signs of gum disease). See your dentist if your gums are red, swollen, or bleed easily, see your dentist.
  • Other symptoms include dry mouth, loose teeth, or mouth pain.
  • Infections in your mouth can take longer to heal.

There is good news: None of this happens right away. And there’s plenty you can do to prevent gum disease. You will reduce your risk if you manage your diabetes and oral health by getting regular checkups with a dentist.

Addressing potential issues can help you manage your diabetes as well. Treating gum disease may help lower your blood sugar over time. Therefore, regular dental visits are essential to prevent problems and manage your diabetes as well as you can. Ask your dentist how often you should have your teeth checked.

Here are a few more important tips:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
  • Floss your teeth at least once a day.
  • Tell your dentist if you have diabetes.
  • If you smoke, quit now. Smoking increases your risk of gum disease and can worsen your diabetes.

How your Dentist can help you fight Diabetes

Regular dental visits are important. Research suggests that treating gum disease can help improve blood sugar control in patients with diabetes, decreasing the progression of the disease. Practicing good oral hygiene and having professional deep cleanings done by your dentist can help to lower your HbA1c. Moreover,  a study published recently in BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care found that nearly 1 in 5 people with severe gum disease may have had type 2 diabetes and didn’t know it. So, your dentist may be able to send you on the road to treatment and management earlier than you would have.

Communication is important

  • Find a dentist who is aware of the needs of people with diabetes
  • Be honest with your dentist.  Your dentist needs to know if you’ve been reaching your diabetes targets since it will affect how you respond to dental treatments
  • Be sure to eat like you normally eat before your appointment and take your usual medications on schedule. 
  • Be proactive. When you go in for a cleaning, ask: How do my gums look? Was there a lot of bleeding? Is there anything more I should be doing? You’re the most essential part of your diabetes care team—and that’s also true when keeping your teeth and gums healthy.
  • If you need oral surgery, you are potentially at risk for post-surgical problems, including infections, because these are more common in people with diabetes. But with close medical care and self-care that keeps blood sugar as close to normal as possible and good personal and professional dental care, problems after surgery are no more likely in people with diabetes than in those without the disease. So please let your dentist know your full health history.

If you have questions about how diabetes affects your oral health, we invite you to make an appointment at Tecumseh Ridge Dental in Norman, Oklahoma. Our relaxing environment and caring staff are ready to hear from you.