The majority of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. This form of diabetes is mainly seen in adults but increasingly affects overweight teenagers and children. When diabetes is not well controlled by diet, exercise and medications, the levels of sugar in the blood may stay consistently high and can affect many parts of the body, such as the eyes, nerves, kidneys, blood vessels and heart. Diabetes can also cause common problems inside your mouth such as tooth decay and gum disease.
How can diabetes affect my teeth and gums?
Foods high in carbohydrates and drinks high in sugar, especially soda, sweet tea and sweetened juices, can affect your teeth and gums in two ways. The first way is that the bacteria living on your teeth and gums love sugar, and a high sugar diet will help them multiply and grow. These bacteria then use the sugar to produce acid which dissolves the enamel of your teeth to produce cavities. A high carbohydrate/sugar diet will also lead to high levels of sugar in your blood which can affect the way your body responds to infection. As a result, you may develop more gum disease because of an increased level of inflammation of your gums in response to the bacteria living in your mouth. Diabetics, with uncontrolled glucose levels, tend to develop more gum disease and may lose more teeth than diabetics who have good control of their glucose levels.
Another complication of diabetes is diminished salivary flow, or dry mouth. Dry mouth creates the perfect environment for the growth of bacterial plaque and for fungal infections such as thrush (Candida infection). Thrush produces inflammation of the tongue, cheeks, and roof of the mouth causing a painful, burning sensation and sometimes sores or ulcers. It can cause difficulty swallowing and affect your ability to taste.
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How can I take care of my teeth and gums if I am a diabetic?
The good news is, these conditions can be prevented or treated if caught early enough. In addition to decreasing intake of sugary foods, snacks and soda, good oral health care is the best way to avoid these complications from diabetes. Brushing your teeth and gums twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, daily flossing and the use of a fluoride mouth rinse before going to bed can help control tooth decay and gum. Visiting your dentist at least once a year is important to help maintain a healthy mouth.
What are the signs I should look for?
Contact your dentist immediately if you notice any of the following:
■ Gums that are tender and bleed easily when you brush or floss.
■ Teeth that are sensitive to hot or cold.
■ Teeth that are loose or broken.
■ Sores, ulcers or a burning sensation in your mouth.
■ Bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth.