We tell our children not to eat too much sugar, because sugary snacks and drinks can cause cavities. This information is true, of course, but we should be reminding ourselves as adults that the relationship between overdoing our sugar intake and our oral health is even more complex than we might admit. It turns out that the relationship between periodontitis (“inflammation around the tooth,” a serious gum infection that damages the soft tissue and bone that supports the tooth) and diabetes is a strong one indeed.
Inflammation that starts in the mouth seems to weaken the body’s ability to control blood sugar. People with diabetes have trouble processing sugar because of a lack of insulin, the hormone that converts sugar into energy. Those suffering from Periodontal disease have an additional burden in the fight against diabetes, as the inflammation from periodontitis can decrease the body’s ability to utilize insulin.
To further complicate matters, diabetes and periodontitis have a two-way relationship. High blood sugar provides ideal conditions for infection to grow, including gum infections. Fortunately you can use the gum disease-diabetes relationship to your favor: managing one can help bring the other under control.
Other problems diabetes can cause are dry mouth and a fungal infection called thrush. Dry mouth happens when you do not have enough saliva—the fluid that keeps your mouth wet.
A dry mouth may occur when blood sugar levels are high. A dry mouth can increase the risk of cavities, because there’s less saliva to wash away germs and take care of the acids they create. Dry mouth can sometimes lead to other problems, such as salivary gland infections. If dry mouth is a problem, try drinking more fluids. Other ideas to try are chewing sugar-free gum or eating sugar-free candy to help keep the saliva flowing. Some people use saliva substitutes, available at drug stores.
Diabetes may also cause the glucose level in your saliva to increase. Together, these problems may lead to thrush, which can cause painful white patches in your mouth. Thrush thrives in moist spots that may be chafed or sore, for example, under poorly fitting dentures. Smoking and wearing dentures all day and night can increase the risk of thrush. Quitting smoking and limiting the time dentures are worn can reduce the risk of getting thrush. If you think you have a fungal infection, talk to your dentist or doctor.
Additionally, if your diabetes is poorly controlled, you may heal more slowly and you increase your chance of infection after dental surgery. To give yourself the best shot at healing well, keep your blood sugar under control before, during, and after surgery. It is very important to tell your oral health care provider about your diabetes before any surgery.
If your diabetes in not under control, the potential for developing problems in your mouth are greater. Follow your doctor’s instructions regarding medication, diet and exercise in order to manage your blood glucose levels.
If you have diabetes, here are some things that you can do to protect your oral health:
- Control your blood glucose
- Brush and floss every day
- Visit your dentist regularly, and be sure to tell your dentist that you have diabetes.
- Tell your dentist if your dentures do not fit properly, or if your gums are sore.
- Quit smoking, as smoking makes gum disease worse, especially for diabetics.
If you have diabetes and would like to discuss oral health concerns or treatment options, Dr. Meyers would be happy to consult with you. Please contact us HERE or by calling the office at 248.646.2450