If you are living with diabetes, you already know that you’re at risk of other health complications. But did you know that your condition means you should take extra steps to take care of your teeth and gums, too?
Researchers from Rutgers University recently found that people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are prone to tooth decay due to a reduced strength and durability of their tooth enamel and dentin.
Brushing and flossing are important parts of any oral hygiene routine to remove sticky plaque and keep your teeth healthy. But if you have diabetes, these steps are even more important. Diabetes can cause changes in your mouth like dryness, tooth decay and gum disease.
What Is Diabetes?
Most people are aware of diabetes, as it’s one of the most common chronic diseases affecting adults today. It’s also called a metabolic disorder because it affects how your body uses food for energy. In simple terms, when your pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin or your cells don’t use insulin properly, sugar stays in your blood instead of being used by your body as fuel. This causes high levels of glucose (sugar) in your bloodstream. If this continues over time, it can lead to serious problems such as heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure, nerve damage, amputations and death.
There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Both involve having higher-than-normal amounts of glucose in your blood. However, there is a big difference between them. With type 1 diabetes, your body stops producing insulin altogether. People with type 2 diabetes tend to make less insulin than normal and may need to use medication or supplemental insulin to help their bodies function properly.
What Are The Symptoms Of Diabetes?
The symptoms of diabetes vary depending on what kind you have. Some people experience no symptoms at all while others feel tired, thirsty, hungry, irritable, and/or experience frequent urination. Other signs include blurred vision, increased thirst, weight loss, slow-healing wounds and infections. You might notice these signs before you actually get diagnosed with diabetes.
Diabetes and Tooth Enamel
The researchers on the Rutgers project induced Type 1 diabetes in 35 mice during the study and tested the affected mice against 35 healthy mice over 28 weeks. While the mice in both groups started with comparable teeth, the enamel of the diabetic mice softened over 12 months and worsened throughout the study. In addition, the researchers saw significant increases in plaque accumulation and tartar formation on the molars of diabetic mice compared to non-diabetic animals.
While this research only examined the effects of diabetes on dental enamel, it’s not hard to imagine how these findings could translate into an increased likelihood for tooth decay among diabetics. The researchers also noted that the severity of the damage to the enamel appeared to be related to the duration of diabetes. They suggest that patients with long-standing diabetes might benefit from regular professional cleanings of their teeth.
We suggest that if you are a diabetic patient, you follow the same oral hygiene routines as everyone else: brush two times a day, use fluoridated toothpaste and floss daily. Remember that these habits will help protect your teeth and gums from further damage.
Diabetes and Gum Disease
Gum disease is caused by bacteria that live in your mouth and feed off sugar and carbohydrates. If left untreated, it can lead to periodontal disease, which causes bone loss around the teeth and eventually leads to tooth loss.
How Are Gum Disease and Diabetes Connected?
People with diabetes often experience high blood sugar levels (glucose) in their bodies. This excess sugar can enter the bloodstream through the lining of the mouth and damage the cells that line the inside of the mouth. These damaged cells create inflammation and infection in the area. The result: gum disease and the potential for poor oral health.
The first stage of gum disease, gingivitis, is characterized by red or swollen gums that are puffy and sore and may bleed easily when brushed. It’s usually painless but can be painful if not treated early enough. Gingivitis can be reversed if caught early.
However, as this disease progresses, the gums become inflamed and infected, causing them to pull away from the teeth. Eventually, the gum tissue becomes loose and falls out. This condition is known as periodontitis. Periodontitis is very serious because it affects the supporting structures of the teeth. The bones that hold the teeth in place begin to deteriorate, causing loose teeth.
If you have diabetes, you should know that certain foods can increase your risk of developing gum disease and causing complications with your illness. Some examples include:
- Foods high in refined sugars like candy and cookies
- Soft drinks containing phosphoric acid
- Alcoholic beverages
- Fried foods
- Carbonated soft drinks
- Chewing tobacco
- Ice cream
- Baked goods
- Fruit juices
- Sweetened cereals
If you have diabetes, you need to be especially careful about maintaining proper oral hygiene. You’ll want to make sure you brush and floss regularly as well as see your dentist for regular checkups. Your dentist will be able to tell if you’re at risk for gum disease or if you have the signs of gum disease.