According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 29 million Americans suffer from diabetes. Unfortunately, this means that approximately 9 percent of the U.S. population is at risk of developing several related health problems, including periodontal disease and tooth decay. Here’s what you should know about diabetes and oral health.
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a very serious disease in which the body either fails to produce enough insulin or uses it improperly. Without adequate insulin, the body cannot convert starches, sugar and other foods into energy. This causes the body’s blood sugar levels to soar, leading to a host of potential complications, including kidney, heart, eye disease and more.
Diabetes and Teeth
People with diabetes face a high risk of oral health problems, because uncontrolled diabetes can affect the body’s white blood cells, which are the primary defense against bacterial infections. This can contribute to development of periodontal disease. Diabetes can also promote oral health problems by causing dry mouth, poor healing of oral tissues, and thrush.
Diabetic tobacco smokers are at an even higher risk of developing oral health problems, since smoking impairs blood flow to the gums. In fact, according to experts, diabetic tobacco users are 20 times more likely to develop tooth decay and periodontal disease compared to non-smokers.
Diabetes and Tooth Loss
Since diabetes and tooth decay are closely related, diabetics are at a higher risk of tooth loss. In a recent study, researchers found that diabetic subjects over the age of 50 were missing an average of about ten teeth. These same subjects were also twice as likely to suffer from edentulism, a complete absence of teeth, compared to non-diabetics.
Diabetes and Dental Care
While it’s important for everyone to prioritize their dental health; diabetics should be especially vigilant. This means practicing good oral hygiene, keeping your blood sugar under control and maintaining routine dental examinations.
According to the American Dental Association, it’s also advisable for diabetic patients to schedule morning dental appointments, since higher endogenous cortisol levels tend to promote increased blood sugar levels during this time.
To avoid the risk of complications, dentists will typically err on the side of caution, when treating patients with poorly controlled diabetes. Many times, they will also coordinate with a patient’s physician to determine whether dental treatment can be effectively and safely accomplished.