Diabetes and Oral Health

June 27, 2017

A few days ago we brought you news that dentists might begin to be able to screen for Diabetes. That would be huge step toward getting more people diagnosed. But, what is actually just as important is the relationship between Diabetes and Oral Health. Here to tell us about is Erin Stelbrink, a Registered Dental Hygienist. Take it away, Erin…

Diabetes and Oral Health

Why oral heath is more important than you think

Diabetes is the third leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States, according to the National Institute of Oral Health. Yikes. That’s not a very encouraging statistic. Nevertheless, people are generally aware that if they follow a healthy eating and exercise plan, take any needed medication and properly monitor themselves, they’ll be just fine. Unfortunately, what many people don’t realize is how much oral health factors into overall wellness when dealing with diabetes.

Why is oral health especially important for diabetics?

There are a number of reasons why keeping up with your oral health is more than just a good idea. The fact that just one acute dental or oral infection in a patient with diabetes can lead to considerable trouble is a case in point.

A big problem is that diabetes weakens the body’s defenses against infection. So if or when a severe oral infection develops, it can actually make a person lose control over her diabetic condition. You can bet there have been cases where those with uninhibited diabetes require hospitalization until the infection is under control. People with diabetes are also prone to other oral complications like gum disease, tooth decay, salivary dysfunction and even pathologic changes—that is, changes in the condition of the disease.

What happens to your mouth when diabetes isn’t controlled?

Unfortunately, diabetes that isn’t controlled can have a very negative impact on oral heath. Some of these adverse effects include enhanced inflammation, delayed healing of oral wounds and conflicting changes to small blood vessels—all of which increase the risk of gum disease. Moreover, this risk directly relates to fasting blood glucose levels.

Rather notably, diabetes causes a hyperactive inflammatory response in a person. Because of this, an infection in the gums can result in even worse inflammation and deconstruction of the gums. Over time, this leads to loose teeth and eventually tooth loss.

Ever heard of tooth dehydration? Think of it as the leader of tooth decay.

It’s kind of strange, but just like our hair, skin and every other organ, teeth can become dehydrated. If you have a dry mouth or tooth sensitivity, it’s likely that you’re dealing with dehydrated teeth. This occurs often for those with diabetes, since hyperglycemia leads to glucose excretion in urine, which ultimately means a loss of fluids. That’s why saliva production slows, making the mouth feel dry and your teeth dehydrated.

Go ahead and blame dry mouth for tooth decay, because it’s biggest culprit. The thing is, we need a good amount of saliva to neutralize and clean the acids produced by bacteria in our mouths. This process creates a balanced pH and keeps tooth enamel from being destroyed. If bacteria in the mouth is multiplying faster than saliva can remove it, some tooth structure damage is inevitably taking place. Repeated damage to the tooth structure is what leaves you with tooth decay.

How important is it for me to see a dentist?

Considering that manifestations of several life-threatening diseases appear in the mouth, avoiding the dentist can be a huge mistake. Going on regular dental visits for checkups and cleaning will significantly lower your risk of oral complications. Furthermore, recent medial research says that, on average, people who maintain healthy oral hygiene home care habits live ten years longer than those who don’t. Ten years! People often underestimate the power of oral hygiene, but it’s really a game-changer—especially for those with diabetes.


About the author: Erin Stelbrink is a Registered Dental Hygienist who heads research and new product development for Smile Brilliant. Erin has 5+ years of experience as a licensed hygienist and oral health care professional. Have more questions or wish to read more of Erin’s articles? Email her at erin@smilebrilliant.com or find more of her work on the Smile Brilliant Blog

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