Dealing With Diabetes and Oral Health – Notes From an Oral Surgeon

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Nearly 30 million Americans have diabetes, most of whom have Type II. Unfortunately, many do not know that diabetes comes with an increased risk of gum disease. People with diabetes are at risk for serious gum disease because they are more susceptible to bacterial infections, and have a lower ability to fight the bacteria that invade gums.

Gingivitis and Periodontitis

Plaque-induced gum disease (gingivitis) is a bacterial infection. The gums become red, swollen and may bleed. Plaque not removed by brushing and flossing hardens to form tartar that brushing doesn’t remove. If the disease is not too severe, we treat it with chlorhexidine rinses and fluoride toothpaste. Once the infection has progressed, antibiotics may be needed to kill the bacteria.

Periodontitis can develop when gingivitis is not treated. The gums pull away from the teeth and form pockets that harbor bacteria. The bone and connective tissues break down, and the tooth may eventually become loose and have to be pulled.

Gum Disease, Diabetes and General Health

Gum disease and glucose control seem to have a connection. Not only are people with diabetes more susceptible to serious gum disease, but serious gum disease can affect blood glucose control and hasten the progression of diabetes.

Gum disease is also associated with heart disease, adverse pregnancy outcomes, and other health issues. That’s why prevention and early treatment are paramount.

Preventing Gum Disease

While gum disease can be treated, it is far better to prevent gingivitis from progressing to periodontitis than it is to treat the full-blown disease.

It isn’t always easy to tell if you have gum disease; you might not have any pain. But there are some warning signs. If your gums bleed, are red, swollen or tender, or they seem to be receding, you might have gingivitis. Bad breath and/or a bad taste in your mouth are also symptoms. If your teeth seem to be shifting, don’t seem to fit together when you bite, or your partial dentures aren’t fitting properly, you could have gum disease. And, of course, loose teeth are a red flag.

If you have been told you have gum disease, or think you might, we would be happy to provide a second opinion.

See Your Dentist Twice a Year

Plaque control is critical. Getting a professional cleaning twice a year, and brushing and flossing daily keep plaque from building up on your teeth, between teeth, and under the gum line. Antibacterial mouth rinses can also help.

During your regular checkup, your dentist or hygienist will scrape away the plaque and tartar (hardened plaque) above and below the gum line. If you have early signs of gum disease, your dentist may ask you to schedule cleanings more than twice a year.

Thrush and Dry Mouth

Thrush, an infection caused by fungi that grow in the mouth, and dry mouth, which can cause soreness, ulcers, infections and cavities, are also associated with diabetes.

To prevent them, blood glucose control is critical. Avoid smoking, and if you wear dentures, remove and clean them daily. Practice excellent oral care by brushing and flossing every day. See your dentist twice a year unless you are advised to visit more often.

Partner with your Oral Care Team

To ensure appropriate oral care if you have diabetes, keep your dentist, hygienist and oral surgeon informed about your condition and the medications you take. Postpone non-emergency dental procedures when your blood sugar is out of control.