Diabetes and its Relation to Oral Health

July 14, 2012 0 Comments

One of the many complications of diabetes that may surprise a lot of people is oral health related. This has something to do with the fact that diabetics are more prone to bacterial infections than non-diabetics. The mouth is indeed full of bacteria and without proper oral hygiene these can settle into the gums and create problems.

Oral health problems associated with diabetes are mostly those affecting the gums. An example is gingivitis, a condition affecting the gingiva (gums) which is the earliest stage of gum disease. It is often painless and one may not know it unless one is keen about the warning signs. These signs include bleeding gums during brushing or flossing, red, tender and swollen gums and bad breath. Other signs are teeth pulling away from the gums and general loosening of teeth and feeling of a misfit when biting.

The culprit for gingivitis is plaque, that sticky substance of leftover food, saliva and germs that settles in the gum lines. Bacteria feed on and thrive on plaque causing red, swollen and tender gums that bleed even with gentle brushing. This is the beginning of gingivitis.

Another thing that will surprise many is that research evidence points to a two-way relationship between oral health problems and diabetes. This means that diabetes increases the risk of oral health problems and like all infections, oral health problems may cause blood glucose levels to increase. Blood glucose control may become difficult with serious oral health infections. When gingivitis progresses and becomes severe; it leads to periodontitis where gums start to pull from teeth leaving pockets that could fill with blood and pus. At this stage, the gums will take longer to heal or you may even require surgery to save both teeth and gums. When one has periodontitis, blood glucose level has most likely remained high for long periods of time.

The first step in fighting oral health problems associated with diabetes is of course blood glucose monitoring and control. This means regular measurements with a reliable glucose meter and following a treatment plan religiously including recommended dietary and lifestyle changes. A blood glucose level that is within target will prevent bacterial infection from occurring including those related to the mouth. One then needs to maintain regular and effective oral hygiene practices. This includes brushing and flossing regularly, avoiding smoking, removing and cleaning dentures and twice yearly check-ups/cleaning by the dentist. Aside from these, one needs to be always on the look-out for early warning signs of oral problems.

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