How diabetes can affect your oral health

When diabetes is not managed closely or efficiently, your oral health can be affected.

The most common symptoms that tend to affect those suffering from diabetes include: dry mouth, tooth decay, oral thrush, mouth ulcers, taste disturbances and, lastly, periodontal disease  – more commonly known as gum disease.

Diabetes can, of course, have a significant effect on our overall health, but it is this increase in blood glucose levels that starts to take a toll in different areas of the body.

Bacteria thrive off excess sugar and for the mouth in particular our teeth and gums become a primary target. What happens next is a build up of bacteria (biofilm), which without sufficient at-home care increases the likelihood of contracting periodontal disease.

Tooth decay and reoccurring discomfort and pain are telling signs you should visit the dentist immediately. Patients who monitor their diabetic journey are far less likely to experience any adverse health effects.

The medications used to control diabetes can sometimes be the cause of dry mouth and taste disturbances. If this treatment is combined with poor lifestyle choices, such as smoking, then the likelihood is again increased.

Many may think that dry mouth is just an inconvenience, but if left untreated, it becomes a major risk factor for dental erosion and begins to eat away at the outer tooth enamel.

Dry mouth is essentially a lack of saliva, and saliva is important as it is our body’s natural protection system for the mouth and teeth. It helps with the breakdown and digestion of food, it flushes the mouth and acts as a buffer to the acids and sugars we consume in food and drink throughout the day. Saliva also provides lubrication for speaking and helps with wound healing in our mouths. When you have a salivary dysfunction, all of the above-mentioned processes are affected.

Oral thrush – a fungal infection in the mouth – is caused by an overgrowth of candida albicans, an ‘opportunistic infection’, and a dry mouth combined with high glucose in saliva can cause this overgrowth. The infection can present as white or red patches on the skin in the mouth and can cause strong discomfort.

It’s important to have a good oral home care routine and see your dental professional for regular treatment throughout your diabetic life.

People needing hypo treatments that require increased consumption of sweetened drinks or sweets are in the high-risk category for tooth decay. If the patient happens to suffer from dry mouth as well, then there is no protector for the teeth, making tooth decay highly likely. After eating sweets, try to rinse your mouth with water to remove excess sugar. An hour later, brush your teeth to reset the teeth, gums and palate.

The most important step is to ensure you regularly visit your dentist for a professional clean. Be sure to tell your dentist of your diabetes diagnosis so he/she is aware of your increased risk of dental disease. Regular examinations allow for prevention and early detection.

Many of you reading may now be worried that a diabetes diagnosis means poor oral health outcomes are inevitable, but that is not the case. There are several steps you can take to reduce your dental risk:

  • Keep your diabetes under control by keeping blood glucose levels within the target.
  • Follow a healthy and balanced diet.
  • Establish a good at-home oral health care regime, brushing at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste (and an electric toothbrush if possible), and flossing daily.
  • Book regular appointments with your dental professional and flag any worries or concerns.
  • Stay hydrated with water and avoid soft drinks and juice.

Tabitha Acret graduated from Newcastle University with a Bachelor of Oral Health and is studying her Masters in Public Health at Charles Darwin University. She is a dental hygienist for AIRFLOW© Dental Spa.

Do you regularly visit your dentist – whether you have diabetes or not? Has the pandemic put a dent in your schedule?

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Related articles:
https://www.yourlifechoices.com.au/health/your-health/tips-to-give-up-sugar
https://www.yourlifechoices.com.au/health/news/fewer-australians-dying-from-strokes
https://www.yourlifechoices.com.au/health/covid19/snapshot-of-our-health-and-covid

Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Written by Tabitha Acret

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