Unstable blood sugar and oral health: How diabetes causes mayhem in the mouth
I think many people would agree with me when I say a healthy smile is something sought-after and admired. But it isn’t this way simply for superficial reasons, of course! Keeping up with good oral care helps prevent serious problems that can occur in our mouths, perhaps even affecting our overall health.
As a dental hygienist, it’s my job to recognize the signs of complications involving your teeth and gums. But when I see patients who have diabetes I have to be on my A-game, for sure. This is because diabetes is known to cause higher risk of many dental and oral issues. So what’s with all the dental side effects of diabetes and what can we do to counteract them? Well, that’s exactly what I’m going to talk about here!
High blood glucose levels ruin your mouth’s main protection system
When diabetes is not controlled (in other words, when a person with diabetes doesn’t make adjustments to keep his or her blood sugar as stable as possible), it can mean big trouble for the body’s defense against oral infections. First of all, if the blood glucose levels are frequently elevated, the body’s white blood cells become impaired.
These blood cells are supposed to be the ringleaders in your body’s defense against bacterial infections in the mouth. So, if an oral infection occurs and isn’t treated right away it can become very serious problem. In fact, many people with diabetes have to be hospitalized for acute infections because the infections themselves can make the disease harder to manage. The symptoms of diabetes become more out of control, so to speak, which can be quite dangerous.
A fungal infection in the mouth is more common in people with diabetes
One particular kind of oral infection that I have to be on the look out for in my patients with diabetes is called thrush. This is a fungal infection usually caused by antibiotics meant to fight various infections in those with diabetes. It’s pretty tough luck when the medicine you’re taking to prevent infection actually causes another, but unfortunately it happens.
The main thing is that the fungus from thrush flourishes on the increased levels of sugar in the saliva of people with uncontrolled diabetes. So if you try to keep your glucose levels in check you’ll probably be okay. If you don’t, you’ll definitely be more susceptible to the infection, which can lead to a white, sometimes painful, lesions in the mouth as well as a burning mouth and tongue sensation. In addition, smoking increases the risk for thrush quite a bit too.
Dry mouth is a primary cause of oral complications and it’s incredibly common in people with diabetes
High blood sugar does not only render important white blood cells impaired, it also causes dehydration of the mouth, or dry mouth. Dry mouth is most basically a lack of saliva, but don’t let its simplicity fool you. It can be rather detrimental to your oral health. Everyone needs a decent amount of saliva in order for the mouth to be healthy. This is because saliva cleanses the mouth by washing away bacteria from food. Saliva also neutralizes the acids present in our mouths that try to eat away at our teeth.
When not enough saliva is present, the bacteria in your mouth are going to be able to multiply and feast on your oral tissues. Over time dry mouth can lead to tooth decay, gum disease, sores, and infections. And aside from that, it probably should be noted that any oral wounds will heal a lot more slowly in a person with diabetes because of reduced blood circulation from thickened blood vessels. It’s a bummer, but it is the reality.
How to maintain good oral heath with diabetes
The best advice I can give to people with diabetes who want to avoid dental or oral problems I’ve narrowed down to three main things:
- Keep up with good, consistent oral hygiene — brush your teeth after meals, floss daily, drink and rinse your mouth with water regularly and use saliva replacement products if needed for dry mouth.
- Always try your best to control your blood sugar — take any needed medication, follow a healthy exercise and diet plan, and monitor yourself carefully.
- See your dentist twice a year (or more often if your doctor feels it’s necessary) Make routine cleanings and check ups a priority since dental professionals can identify impending problems and help you before they become severe.
Remember, just because having diabetes means you’re predisposed to oral complications doesn’t mean you can’t fight it! Just like I tell all my patients, taking steps to support your oral health will make a huge difference, for sure!
About the author: Erin Stelbrink is a Registered Dental Hygienist with 5+ years of experience as a licensed hygienist and oral health care professional. She holds a passion for researching the latest technologies and methods for providing valuable health care service and clinical treatment. Aside from clinical work, Erin serves as a product researcher and journalist for Smile Brilliant, a company providing professional teeth whitening from home and cavity prevention products. Have more questions or wish to read more of Erin’s articles? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or find more of her work on the Smile Brilliant Blog
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