Given that diabetes affects 26 million people in the United States, chances are that you know someone who has the disease, or may be experiencing it yourself. It’s a debilitating illness that affects people’s lives to their core, changing everything from how they eat to how they travel. But few may know that diabetes and your oral health go hand in hand as well.
What Does Gum Disease Do?
One of the top oral health problems that diabetics experience is exposure to gum disease. Gum disease may seem temporary at first, but it can quickly spiral out of control without treatment. Gum disease is when bacteria get underneath the gums and start to fester. It causes the gums to become inflamed and red, and can even progress to bleeding or oozing pus (in extreme cases). If left untreated, the bacterial infection can worsen and cause your teeth to loosen or shift position. As the teeth shift around, the overall balance of bite pressure will change and influence how you eat and speak.
However, these symptoms only occur in extreme cases of neglect. Most healthy patients deter these results simply by brushing and flossing everyday. Our goal as dentists is to catch the disease before it becomes worse, and coach our diabetic patients on better oral health practices.
Diabetes and Gum Disease: Does It Go Both Ways?
For those who may not know, diabetes is an illness that prevents your body from processing sugars properly, which leads to high blood sugar and putting some vital organs at risk. Gum disease is when the gums become infected with bacteria, leading to soreness, bleeding, and gum recession. But is there a correlation between the two? The answer is yes.
Patients with diabetes are actually more susceptible to gum disease. Now, this doesn’t mean that all diabetics will get gum disease, but the risk increases for those who have diabetes. Diabetes can affect the strength of your immune system, making it more difficult to fight bacterial infections in your gums. On the other hand, research has suggested that patients who have gum disease can inadvertently affect their blood glucose, and progress their diabetes.
Warning Signs to Watch For
Diabetic patients already have enough to keep track of, but once you notice these deteriorations in your oral health, you should see a dentist as soon as possible. This way you can get treated as soon as possible.
Here’s some symptoms to watch out for when it comes to gum disease:
- Red, swollen gums
- Bad breath
- Shifting teeth out of position
- “Long-tooth” appearance; the gums pulling back from the teeth, exposing the roots
If any of these symptoms appear in your mouth, be sure to let us know as soon as possible. We’ll bring you in for an evaluation and set you on the path to treatment.
Is Gum Disease Contagious?
Since gum disease, and the more extreme form of periodontitis, are bacterial infections, it is indeed possible for the bacteria to be passed around. However, this can only be done with direct contact.
For example, kissing is often a concern for our gum disease patients. The answer is that yes, gum disease bacteria can be transferred through kissing a loved one, spouse, or even your dog. However, as long as the person is vigilant with their oral health regimen, including brushing and flossing everyday, then there is little to no risk of garnering gum disease.
Gum disease can also be passed along by sharing eating utensils, cups, straws, and dental devices (such as retainers or dentures) with people who are infected. If you or a loved one are confirmed to have gum disease, it’s best to not share these things with them, and remember to brush and floss everyday. This is especially true for patients who have diabetes and may be more susceptible to bacterial infection.
How Diabetic Patients Can Fight Oral Disease
In spite of the delicate balance of diet and activity that diabetics have to keep in mind, there are still ways that diabetic patients can keep common oral ailments at bay. Just follow these simple directions, and keep in touch with your dentist to stay on top of your oral health.
- Brushing and flossing at least twice a day
- Attend regular hygiene visits at the dentist
- Deep cleaning (also known as scaling and root planing)
- Antibiotic medicine prescribed by the dentist
- In extreme cases, gum surgery may be needed to clean infected areas
Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)
- Take any medicine or fluoride mouthwash prescribed
- Chew sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva flow
- Hydrate frequently (but don’t over-hydrate)
- Avoid tobacco products, alcohol, and caffeinated beverages
- Avoid extremely spicy or salty foods
- Take any prescribed medicines that eradicate the fungus
- Thoroughly clean dental devices, such as dentures and retainers
- Soak your dental devices in cleaning solution for part of the day or overnight
Keep in mind that certain symptoms, like dry mouth, could also be side effects of diabetic medication. Ask your doctor about common side effects of your prescriptions and let us know about your health changes when you pay us a visit.
How Often Should You See the Dentist?
The standard rule is every six months, or at least twice a year. These are the times when dentists can check on your progress with any oral health changes. They’ll take x-rays of your smile, evaluate the healthiness of your gums and teeth, and also talk to you about any cosmetic or restorative treatments you’re interested in.
What’s most important is to also keep us informed about your medical health. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes or are pre-diabetic, we ask that you let us know about these changes. Each patient’s medical history is held in the strictest confidence, and will only be between you and our dental care providers.
Contact Us About Oral Health Changes in Nashville, TN
Are you diabetic or pre-diabetic? If so, we want to help make sure that your oral health stays in good shape throughout your treatment. Contact us and schedule a consultation with one of our three premier dentists, and get the information you need to have a better smile, even with your diabetic symptoms.