Oral Health and Diabetes: The Connection

Everyone needs to brush and floss their teeth regularly to prevent cavities and periodontal disease. Plus, emerging scientific evidence suggests that good oral hygiene may impact more than just your mouth, decreasing your risk for cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions. Unfortunately, people with Type 2 diabetes are at a significantly higher risk of oral health problems — including periodontal disease. Practicing good oral hygiene is very important among people with diabetes and can prevent significant dental problems.

What Is the Link between Oral Health and Diabetes?
More than 30 million Americans currently have diabetes (both Type 1 and Type 2). Large-scale scientific studies have found that people with diabetes are significantly more likely to have gum disease and other oral health problems. This is in addition to other complications of diabetes, such as damage to the eyes, cardiovascular system and nervous system.

The exact relationship between oral health and diabetes is currently unknown. However, experts in this area believe that there may be a bidirectional relationship between diabetes and gum disease. First, people with diabetes are more susceptible to gum bleeding, gingivitis and periodontitis (serious gum disease). This is consistent with diabetics being generally more susceptible to inflammation and bacterial infections of all kinds. People with diabetes also tend to have immune system issues that prevent them from effectively fighting against bacteria that cause gum disease.

In addition to people with diabetes being more susceptible to gum disease, emerging evidence indicates that serious gum disease may affect the ability to regulate blood glucose. This means that gum disease could increase your likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes. Gum disease causes chronic inflammation of gum tissue. Having chronic inflammation causes a cascade of events — including release of inflammatory markers called cytokines. These cytokines may make it more difficult for your body to control the release of insulin, the hormone that regulates blood glucose levels. Resistance or insensitivity to insulin is a hallmark of diabetes. Thus, uncontrolled oral health problems may make it more likely that otherwise healthy individuals develop diabetes.

Recognizing the Warning Signs of Gum Disease
Gum disease is a progressive condition that often begins with mild symptoms that increase in severity over time. Thus, it is important to continually assess your own oral hygiene to determine if you have any warning signs of gum disease. Making frequent trips to the dentist is another good way to ensure that you have not developed oral health problems. If you have any of the following warning signs, you may need to be evaluated for gum disease risk:

  • Gums that bleed when you brush or floss your teeth
  • Swollen, red or tender gums
  • Gum tissue that pulls away from the teeth
  • Pus that develops between your gums and teeth
  • Persistent bad breath
  • Loose or moveable permanent teeth
  • Changes in your bite, or the way your teeth fit together
  • An alteration in the fit of a partial bridge or dentures
  • Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Oral Health Problems

    To avoid oral health problems, take good care of your teeth. Remember to gently brush your teeth at least twice per day in a circular motion. If possible, brushing after eating lunch is also a good idea to remove any plaque buildup. Also remember to floss at least once per day, which removes particles that live between teeth or close to gum tissue. These particles attract pro-inflammatory bacteria that may contribute to periodontal disease.

    However, brushing and flossing are just the basics when it comes to good oral hygiene. It is also important to watch the foods you eat. If you have Type 2 diabetes, it is already a good idea to monitor your diet and cut back your intake of sugary foods. This is doubly important for preventing gum disease. Reduce your consumption of processed foods, candy and desserts to keep your gums healthy. Also pay attention to what you drink. Drinking sugar-filled beverages such as sodas, fruit juices or sports drinks can promote the growth of bacteria that negatively affect your gums. Finally, try to drink plenty of water throughout the day to flush away excess bacteria.

    Author Bio: Bonnie Coberly works at Natural Horizons Wellness Centers as a Certified Health Counselor. Natural Horizons Wellness Centers offers a variety of services, including biological dentistry.