Diabetes Dental Care
Some aspects of diabetes dental care are the same as a person without diabetes, especially that you have to brush your teeth at least twice a day — after every meal if you’re especially careful — and floss your teeth at least once a day. You may want to use a soft toothbrush to avoid irritating your gums.
The second aspect of diabetes dental care is that you must work to keep your blood sugar levels under control. When they aren’t, you are more at risk for a number of dental complications.
Dangers of a Diabetic's Dry Mouth
Many diabetic medications or uncontrolled blood sugar levels may have a side effect that can impact dental health: dry mouth. This condition is more than a discomfort that causes you to reach for the water bottle. Saliva has protective effects for your teeth, washing away harmful bacteria, but when you experience dry mouth from your medications, bacteria that cause decay can flourish. Some of the solutions you may use to stop dry mouth may be another contributing factor to tooth decay: sugary candies or cough drops.
“Now you are bathing your teeth in a sugar bath,” says Charles V. Ankar, DDS, a family dentist with a practice at Shallowford Family Dental Group in Chattanooga, Tenn.
This means the sugary foods you eat to keep from getting dry mouth affect both your blood sugar levels and the potential plaque in your teeth. Skip those, and choose water instead since it won’t elevate your blood sugar levels, but it will reduce dry mouth. Other treatments include a saliva substitute or chewing sugar-free gum to produce more saliva.
Know Your Diabetes Risks
One of the biggest dental concerns for diabetics is gum disease, which is often a silent condition. Even if you are between dental visits, however, you can keep track of a few symptoms that could indicate you are experiencing gum disease. These include:
- Gums that bleed when you floss
- Gums that appear to be pulling away from your teeth
- Your teeth don’t seem to fit together well when you bite down
- Gums that feel swollen, red or tender to the touch
Listen to your body. If you experience these or other symptoms that don’t feel right to you, contact your dentist. Another example of a condition commonly associated with diabetes and dental health is thrush, which is a form of fungal infection. If you smoke and have diabetes, you are 20 times more likely to experience gum disease and thrush. If you needed another reason to quit, your dental health is a good one.
Make Dental Visits a Priority
To ensure you are taking the best precautions for your teeth, you may need to visit your dentist for a checkup more often than the traditional twice-yearly visits. Talk to your dentist about your overall health and if your diabetes is well-controlled.
“Many diabetic patients make visits three or four times per year as opposed to twice a year,” Dr. Ankar says. “By making an increased number of routine visits, we can manage conditions sooner than later.”
Detecting conditions such as gum disease as early as possible is vital to your overall health. Not only can diabetes affect your gum health, when you have gum disease, your blood glucose levels may become tougher to control. For this reason, preventive measures, such as seeing your physician a few extras times a year can be helpful in keeping you healthy.