How Diabetes Affects Dental Health

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Healthy  Smiles by Rita Tempel, DDS – This article was originally published in the Gettysburg Times, February 15, 2017

Diabetes is often called an “epidemic” in America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 30 million Americans now have diabetes. Here in Pennsylvania, 1.45 million residents (nearly 13% of the adult population) are affected by diabetes. Even more surprising, 3.5 million Pennsylvanians (35.8% of the adult population) have prediabetes with blood glucose levels higher than normal. Since the diabetic population is on the rise, I’d like to take time in today’s column to address how diabetes affects dental health.

First, let’s define “diabetes:” a disease in which the body cannot properly control the amount of sugar in the blood because it does not have enough insulin. There are basically three types of diabetes: Type 1 (juvenile diabetes), Type 2, and Gestational Diabetes (occurring during pregnancy).

The most common and serious connection between diabetes and dental health is gum disease. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), gum disease is one of the leading complications associated with diabetes, right up there with heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. In fact, the ADA states that it’s a “two-way street,” because research shows that people with diabetes are more susceptible to gum disease, and serious gum disease may affect blood glucose control and contribute to the progression of diabetes. This is mainly because diabetics are more susceptible to bacterial infection and have a decreased ability to fight bacteria that invade their gums.

What are some of the warning signs associated with gum disease?

  • Bleeding gums during brushing or flossing
  • Redness or tenderness of the gums
  • Gums that have pulled away from teeth
  • Bad breath
  • Changes in the way your teeth fit when you bite
  • Changes in the way that your partial or complete dentures fit

In addition to gum disease, additional oral health issues that are often associated with diabetic patients include:

  • Oral infections
  • Fungal infections such as thrush (white patches in the mouth)
  • Slower healing process after dental surgery
  • Dry mouth, which increases the risk of cavities

So what can diabetic patients do to maintain a healthy balance between their overall and dental health?

  • It is critical that diabetic patients see their dentist for cleanings at least every six months; possibly every three months if the patient has gum disease.
  • Regular brushing and flossing, at least twice a day, is also critical.
  • It’s also of vital importance to be aware of any changes in dental health, such as the warning signs for gum disease listed above, and then making dental appointments to stay on top of any potential issues.
  • Drink plenty of water.

Hopefully all of this information helps you or a loved one successfully maintain dental health in the midst of diabetes. Regular dental visits and communication with your dentist are more important than ever, to maintain both your overall and dental health. Although diabetes is a serious disease, I believe patients can successfully maintain their smiles through it all!

Dr. Rita Tempel is the owner and founder of Gettysburg Smiles/Dr. Rita Tempel & Associates, a family dental practice located at 2018 York Road (Route 30 East), Gettysburg.  She is a Sustaining Member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry as well as a Preferred Provider for Invisalign. For more information, see GettysburgSmiles.com or contact Dr. Tempel at 717-339-0033.

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