Diabetes and Gum Disease: What You Need to Know

Diabetes is a chronic illness in which the body loses its ability to process sugar.  In the United States alone, more than 29 million people have diabetes, which is roughly 10% of the total population.  In addition, more than 1.7 million new cases of diabetes are diagnosed every year.  Of the diabetics in this country, more than 8 million don’t know it.

What Is Diabetes?

The food we eat is eventually converted to sugar (or glucose) which is carried throughout the body using the hormone, insulin, for energy.  For some people, the body slows down its ability to produce insulin (this is Type I Diabetes), shutting down the process. For others (with Type II Diabetes), the body is no longer able to respond properly to insulin.  Both Type I and Type II Diabetes result in high blood sugar—and that in turn can cause a host of other problems in your kidneys, nerves, eyes, and heart.

Here is how the National Institutes of Health defines diabetes:

“Diabetes is a disease that occurs when your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high. Blood glucose is your main source of energy and comes from the food you eat. Insulin, a hormonem made by the pancreas, helps glucose from food get into your cells to be used for energy. Sometimes your body doesn’t make enough—or any—insulin or doesn’t use insulin well. Glucose then stays in your blood and doesn’t reach your cells.”

What Are The Warning Signs Of Diabetes?

People not yet diagnosed as diabetic sometimes visit their family doctor because they’re thirsty all the time or urinating more than usual.  Sometimes the onset of diabetes can also cause excessive fatigue and loss of weight. Your doctor will generally perform a blood test if these symptoms are present.  The blood test will reveal your blood sugar level, and whether you have diabetes.

What Does This Have To Do With Oral Health?

Diabetes (along with other things, like some prescription medications) can cause dry mouth.  The lack of saliva makes you more prone to the development of cavities. It can also cause inflammation of the gums and the development of wounds inside the mouth.  All these conditions make it more likely that you’ll develop gum disease.

Diabetes And Gum Disease

Everyone has a large volume of bacteria living inside the mouth.  In some cases, those bacteria can attack the gums, leading to periodontal disease and other gum diseases.  Periodontal disease is a serious medical condition that causes chronic inflammation of the gums.  People with diabetes are at greater risk of developing periodontal disease because their bodies have less ability to control blood sugar.  For example, more than 20% of diabetics also develop periodontal disease.

In addition, gum disease, because it’s an infection, can cause blood sugar levels to rise.  In this sense, diabetes and gum disease are complementary, each increasing the onset and intensity of the other.

This also means that preventing or controlling one can help prevent or control the other.  For example, effective treatment of gum disease sometimes helps control blood sugar levels, lessening the progression of diabetes.  In fact, good oral health practices also play a positive role.

Work With Your Dentist To Create A Plan

If you have diabetes, it’s important that you meet with your dentist to create an action plan.  That plan will differ slightly from one individual to another, but it generally includes the following 3 elements:

  1. Take appropriate steps to control blood sugar:  this includes taking the medications prescribed by your doctor.  Other actions, like getting more exercise and eating a more nutritious diet can also be beneficial.
  2. Don’t smoke:  if you don’t smoke already, don’t start.  If you do smoke and have diabetes or gum disease (or both) talk to your doctor about available treatments to slowly wean you off nicotine over time.
  3. Effectively brush and floss your teeth:  brushing and flossing might seem like second nature, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do them.  Ask your dentist how best to keep your teeth clean.

Conclusion

Diabetes is a serious, chronic condition, but there are positive steps you can take to keep it under control.  You might have thought that all of these would come from your family doctor—but, in fact, the demonstrated relationship between diabetes and gum disease means that you should also work with your dentist to create an effective plan to prevent gum disease and, by extension, help control your diabetes. Schedule an appointment today and we’ll work with you to help get your health on track.