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The effects of diabetes on oral health

There are many well-known complications associated with diabetes and untreated high blood sugar levels. They include kidney disease (nephropathy), nerve damage (neuropathy), heart disease, eye damage (retinopathy) and peripheral arterial disease (PAD). But one overlooked health condition in the top ten list of possible complications of diabetes is oral health. If left untreated, diabetes can gradually affect your oral health in many ways.

When you have the condition, you are at higher risk for certain oral health conditions. High blood sugar and the side effects of some diabetes medication can cause dry mouth. Dry mouth is the result of a decrease in the saliva production in your mouth. Without the cleansing and protective effects of saliva, bacteria thrive, and gum tissue can become irritated and inflamed. A dry mouth condition can lead to its own set of oral health complications such as tooth decay, cavities, gingivitis, gum disease, dental bleeding, salivary gland infections, oral thrush and mouth sores.

Uncontrolled diabetes can affect white blood cells also. White blood cells are the main defence against oral infections. (Diabetics with a haemoglobin A1C levels above 8% indicate poor control) In turn, as oral inflammation and infection develops, the body’s blood sugar levels may increase. Consequently, diabetics with severe gum disease (periodontitis) may find it even harder to keep their blood sugar levels under control.

There are several warning signs of oral health problems that may be diabetes related:

  • Redness, swelling or tenderness in the gums
  • Pain or soreness in the mouth
  • Teeth that are loose or have shifted
  • Constant bad breath or bad taste in your mouth
  • Loss of taste
  • A dry, sticky sensation in your mouth
  • Unusual colour of your tongue

While your dentist can not diagnose diabetes, they are often one of the first health care professionals to recognise a group of oral health symptoms – that are not within the scope of typical dental health issues.

It is important to take the right steps to keep your mouth healthy if you have diabetes:

  1. Control and manage your blood glucose levels
  2. Brush and floss twice daily
  3. Use a tongue scrapper and an antibacterial mouthwash
  4. Visit your dentist for regular check-ups and cleans
  5. Keep your dentist informed about your diabetes and your medication
  6. Consult your dentist or doctor about any unusual symptoms and health concerns

With better management of your diabetes, careful attention to your diet, and good oral health and hygiene, you can work toward achieving better overall health and well-being.