The role of dental health in managing diabetes

From an early age, most of us were taught the importance of brushing our teeth. We’ve also established a firm routine of caring for our teeth and gums by regularly visiting our dentist. As Leigh Ann Brooks, RN, BSN, RD, CD, CDE, nursing services operational lead, Diabetes Education Center, tells us, dental care needs are particularly important for those suffering from diabetes.

Typically, patients with diabetes are encouraged to see their dentist twice a year. In the big picture of complications associated with the condition, dental care may seem trivial, but it can actually have a big impact on your health.

Diabetes can increase your risk of periodontal disease and in turn, periodontal disease can impact your blood sugar control. When blood sugars are not well controlled a person with diabetes is much more likely to develop gingivitis or periodontitis. When gum disease starts, it causes redness and swelling of the gums. This can lead to pockets forming between the tooth and gum. These pockets can collect bacteria dwelling in the mouth.

Patients with diabetes are more at risk for this bacteria developing infections in the pockets. The infection, if left untreated, can cause the bone and root of the teeth to become infected as well. When this occurs, the teeth may break, fall out or need to be extracted.

Just like other diabetes complications, prevention is the key to maintaining a healthy smile that will not complicate your blood sugar control. The cornerstone to preventing gingivitis and periodontitis is brushing twice a day and flossing daily. Other keys to maintaining dental health include seeing your dentist twice a year and informing him/her of your diabetes, as well as taking steps to reduce smoking and tobacco use.

You should also be able to recognize the warning signs of gingivitis and periodontitis:

  1. Red and swollen gums
  2. Tender and bleeding gums
  3. Exposed roots on teeth
  4. Pus collection between teeth and gums
  5. Bad breath
  6. Loose or moving teeth
  7. Change in feeling of teeth when eating
  8. Ill-fitting dentures, partials or plates

If you experience any of these symptoms, please contact your dentist. To learn more and assess your knowledge about diabetes and dental care, take this quiz on oral health and hygiene from the American Diabetes Association.


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