Diabetes Symptoms: Higher Risk of Oral Problems

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When you have diabetes symptoms, high blood sugar can take a toll on your entire body. Including your oral health, as it affects your teeth and gums. 

Did you know that more than 29 million people living in the United States alone have diabetes? That is about 9.3% of the population. 

There are approx 1.7 million new cases diagnosed each year. And 8.1 million people are living with diabetes who do not even know they have the disease.

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The good news is that prevention is in your hands. Individuals with diabetes have a higher risk of tooth and gum problems. Hence, it becomes important to look after oral health and control your blood glucose levels to prevent gum disease

So what does diabetes have to do with your smile, and how can you protect your oral health? First, it is important to understand the signs of diabetes and its roles in your mouth. Also, learn about its effects and then take charge of your dental health.

Diabetes Symptoms and Your Oral Health

Individuals with diabetes who have irregular blood glucose levels automatically have a higher risk of tooth problems and gum disease than people without diabetes. This is because your body has a lowered resistance to infection and your wound might not heal as easily.

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If you are living with diabetes, you need to pay particular attention to your dental care and oral health. You also have to control your blood glucose levels. Visit your dentist periodically for advice about how to keep your teeth and gums healthy.

Diabetes often affects your body’s ability to process sugar. As a regular cycle of your body, the food you intake is turned to sugar and then used for energy. 

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If you have Type I diabetes, your body does not make enough insulin. Insulin is the hormone that carries sugar from your blood to the different cells that need it for energy. 

In Type II diabetes, your body stops responding to insulin. Both type I and II result in high blood sugar levels, which can be harmful to your eyes, nerves, heart, kidneys, and other parts of your body.

Diabetes is a common, occurring disease and has affected a significant portion of the population. The first signs and symptoms of diabetes can generally occur in your mouth. So by paying attention to your oral health, you can diagnose and treat the symptoms earlier.

The common oral health problems affecting people with diabetes are as follows:

  • periodontal disease or gum disease
  • tooth decay
  • gum abscesses
  • fungal infections such as oral thrush
  • lichen planus (an inflammatory, autoimmune skin condition)
  • mouth ulcers
  • taste disturbances
  • a dry, burning mouth (low saliva levels).

Why People with Diabetes Symptoms Likely to Develop Oral Health Problems?

The primary link between diabetes and oral health problems is high blood sugar. If your blood sugar levels are poorly controlled, you are more likely to develop oral health problems. 

It is because your uncontrolled diabetes will weaken the white blood cells, which are the body’s main defense against bacterial infections that can happen in your mouth.

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Studies have shown that controlling blood sugar levels will automatically lower your risk of major organ complications of diabetes. These diabetes complications could be eye, heart, and nerve damage — so diabetes protects against the development of oral health problems.

If you have diabetes and also smoke, you are at an even higher risk, up to 20 times more likely than non-smokers, to develop periodontal disease and oral thrush. Smoking, as you know, can impair your blood flow to the gums, which might adversely affect wound healing in this tissue area. Hence, quit smoking for faster healing.

Diabetes Symptoms and Gum Disease

Periodontal disease or gum disease is commonly caused by an infection that destroys the bone surrounding and supporting your teeth. This bone is responsible for holding your teeth into your jawbone. 

The jaw bone also allows you to chew comfortably. Bacteria and food debris deposited on your teeth lead to plaque on teeth which finally becomes gum disease.

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If left on teeth and gums, these food particles called plaque harden to form calculus or tartar. The plaque and calculus irritate your gums around teeth, so they become swollen, red, and bleed. 

As your gum disease progresses, more and more bone is lost in the process. Your teeth become loose and might fall out by themselves or may need to be removed by your dentist.

Gum disease is more common and severe in individuals with suboptimal blood glucose levels. This is because they tend to have lower resistance to infection and reduced healing capacity.

Hence, if you have diabetes, it is important to look after your oral health and control your glucose levels to prevent gum disease. It is actually a two-way street. If you treat your gum disease it helps improve your blood glucose levels if you live with diabetes. Individuals with optimal blood glucose levels respond very well to dental treatment.

Symptoms of gum disease

Please see your dentist immediately if you notice any signs and symptoms of gum disease, including:

  • Swollen, red, tender, bleeding gums.
  • A persistent discharge called pus comes from the gums.
  • Gums become loose and start to pull away from the teeth.
  • A bad taste or bad breath in your mouth.
  • Loose teeth, this condition can change the ‘feel’ of your bite. 
  • Spaces in between your teeth start to open up.

Diabetes Symptoms and Tooth Decay

If you are among those living with diabetes having increased blood glucose levels you tend to have more glucose in your saliva. Moreover, you might also have the condition – very dry mouth. Both these conditions are ideal for dental plaque to build up on teeth, leading to tooth decay and cavities in the future.

You can successfully get rid of dental plaque by thoroughly cleaning your teeth and gums twice daily using a toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. You can also use dental floss or interdental cleaners daily to clean between your teeth. 

If you take good care of yourself, even if you have diabetes, you can prevent cavities and gum disease.

Diabetes Symptoms and Oral Fungal Infections

Oral thrush, also known as candidiasis, is a fungal infection. When there is an overgrowth of the yeast Candida albicans, this oral infection occurs naturally in your mouth. 

Some conditions often caused by diabetes, such as poor resistance to infection, high glucose in saliva, and dry mouth leading to low saliva levels, can all contribute to oral thrush.

Oral thrush might cause red or white patches on the skin inside your mouth, which can result in discomfort and ulcers. Both good mouth hygiene and controlled blood glucose levels are critical to successfully treating the oral infection or oral thrush. Your dentist might treat this condition by prescribing antifungal medications.

Other Oral Health Problems Associated with Diabetes

People with diabetes also face a higher risk of:

1 Dry mouth: if you have uncontrolled diabetes can decrease saliva flow in the mouth, causing harmful conditions like dry mouth. A dry mouth can further lead to ulcers, soreness, infections, and tooth decay.

2 Gum Inflammation or Gingivitis: Besides weakening your white blood cells, another complication of diabetes can cause blood vessels to thicken. This thick blood slows down the flow of nutrients to and waste products from your body tissues, including your mouth. 

When such a combination of events occurs, your body slowly loses its ability to fight infections. Since gingivitis and periodontal disease is a bacterial infection, if you have uncontrolled diabetes, you might experience more frequent and severe gum disease.

3 Poor healing of oral tissues: If you do not have optimized glucose levels in case of uncontrolled diabetes, you will not heal fast, especially after oral surgery or other dental procedures.  Probably because the blood flow to the treatment site might be damaged.

4 Thrush: Individuals with diabetes who frequently take antibiotics to fight infections are more prone to developing a fungal infection of the tongue and mouth. The oral fungus thrives on the high glucose levels in the saliva of people having uncontrolled diabetes. In addition, if you wear dentures, especially when your teeth are worn constantly could also lead to fungal infections.

5 Burning mouth and tongue: This condition is caused by the presence of thrush. Commonly known as burning mouth syndrome there is a burning pain in your mouth that generally does not have a known cause. If you have this condition, your tongue and roof of the mouth feels like they are burning.

How to Prevent Oral Health Problems if You Have Diabetes Symptoms? 

As you have seen, people with diabetes are more prone to conditions that may harm their oral health, it is essential to follow good oral hygiene practices. You should pay special attention to any changes in your oral health. You should also call your dentist immediately if such changes occur. 

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Few suggestions to reduce or prevent oral health problems include:

  • You should try to keep your blood sugar as close to normal as possible. Discuss the status of your diabetes at each dental visit.
  • Make an appointment with your doctor before scheduling treatment for periodontal disease. Ask your doctor to discuss your dentist about your overall health condition with your dentist, especially if oral surgery or procedure is planned. 
  • Give your dentist a list of all the medicines you are taking. Your dentist will need to know this to prescribe medicines in line with what you are taking. For example, if a major infection is being treated, your insulin dose needs to be adjusted.
  • Also, try to postpone non-emergency dental procedures in case your blood sugar is not in good control.  However, acute infections like abscesses should be treated immediately.

You have to keep in mind that healing might take longer than usual if you have diabetes. Follow your dentist’s post-treatment instructions closely to avoid any complications. You need to pay extra attention to your oral hygiene tips if you have diabetes. 

As you already know, managing diabetes is a lifelong commitment, and that includes proper dental care. Remember, your efforts will be rewarded with a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums.

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