Living With Diabetes? How to Protect Your Healthy Smile
November is American Diabetes Awareness Month. If you have diabetes, you know that high levels of blood sugar can stress your entire body. Your teeth and gums are no exceptions – gum disease is the most common dental problem affecting people who live with diabetes.
As a family dentist in DC, I tell my patients that the link between diabetes and gum disease is a two-way street: High blood glucose levels can cause gum disease, but inflammation from decay starting in the mouth may also lead to type 2 diabetes.
Cavities and Diabetes
Your mouth contains many types of bacteria. The starches and sugars in food and beverages interact with these bacteria and create a sticky film known as plaque that forms on your teeth. There are acids in plaque that attack the surfaces of your teeth (enamel and dentin) and, in some cases, cause cavities. If your blood sugar is high, there are more sugars and starches — and more acid wearing away at your teeth.
Without regular brushing and flossing to remove the plaque, it will harden under your gumline into a substance called tartar (calculus). If the plaque and tartar are not removed, they irritate the gingiva — the part of your gums around the base of your teeth. In time, your gums become swollen and bleed easily. This is gingivitis or gum disease.
Gum Disease and Diabetes
Gum disease and diabetes have an interesting connection. People with diabetes have a higher risk for gum problems because of poor blood sugar control. Gingivitis is an infection that may cause blood sugar to rise. Then your diabetes becomes harder to control. You are more susceptible to infections and are less able to fight the bacteria that invade your gums. Whether your diabetes is Type 1 or Type 2, managing your blood sugar level is key.
Here are six things you can do on your own to fight diabetes-related oral health problems:
- Control your blood sugar levels. Use your diabetes medications as directed, change to a healthier diet and exercise more. Good blood sugar control helps your body fight infections in your mouth and relieves dry mouth caused by diabetes.
- Avoid smoking.
- If you wear any kind of denture, clean it daily.
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a soft-bristled or powered toothbrush. Brush in the morning and at night. If possible, also brush after meals and snacks.
- Floss your teeth at least once a day. If you have trouble, consider using waxed floss or a floss holder.
- Schedule regular dental visits. Seeing a dentist is a slightly different experience for people with diabetes. Talk with your dentist about handling your diabetes and the dental treatment available.
Managing diabetes is a lifelong commitment. With your family dentist as a partner and proper dental care, you can achieve a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums.
Remember, healthy teeth make a healthy smile!
Dr. Nishan Halim
Nishan Halim, DMD specializes in adult and pediatric restorative and cosmetic dentistry, as well as preventive dentistry, which is at the heart of this Capitol Hill, Washington DC neighborhood dental center. To find out how to get started on your diabetes-related dental health action plan, schedule an appointment at your convenience.