I wrote an entire book based on the principle that your oral health is closely tied to your overall health. Problems that begin with your teeth and gums can have a domino effect and spread to other systems in your body. Links have been found between the health of your mouth and the health of your heart, lungs, mind, and immune system. Today, I want to dive into the link between your oral health and diabetes.
An estimated 100 million Americans are living with diabetes or prediabetes. Diabetes is a condition in which the body can’t produce its own insulin, a hormone that helps to regulate blood sugar. This means that the body doesn’t convert food into energy as efficiently, leading to overeating and increased sugar intake.
Early Warning Signs. Before we get into the effects of diabetes on your oral health, let’s look at what warning signs can appear in the mouth before an official diabetes diagnosis. Untreated diabetes can cause you to have less saliva. This results in dry mouth and a greater risk of cavities. Bleeding gums, delayed wound healing, and an increase in infections in the mouth are other early warning signs. Many of these signs can have other causes as well, but if you start to see a few of them pop up, it’s worth consulting with your doctor.
Tooth Decay. Diabetes can lead to poor nutritional health, weight gain, and compromised oral health. The more sugar you eat, the more “food” the bacteria in your mouth have to snack on. This leads to colonies of bacteria growing out of control, causing tooth decay.
Gum Disease. Gum disease is directly correlated with diabetes. Diabetes lowers the body’s overall ability to fight infection, and periodontal disease (gum disease) is caused by a bacterial infection in the mouth. With less of a defense against bacteria, the body can’t heal itself and periodontal disease can get more serious at a faster rate. This can lead to missing teeth, a weakened jawbone, and even more bacteria in the mouth.
Sleep Apnea. The weight gain associated with diabetes can increase your chances of developing obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA is a condition in which air can’t get to the lungs for more than ten seconds while a person is sleeping due to an obstruction in the airway. This is a potentially life-threatening condition and has many adverse side effects, including chronic fatigue, headaches, and heart disease.
Action Steps. When managing your diabetes, it’s important to keep a close eye on your dental health. The first step is to be sure to visit your dentist regularly. It’s important to have a check-up every six months.
Stay diligent with your diabetes treatments﹘ take your medications as directed, eat a healthier diet, stay hydrated, and exercise regularly. This will help you control your blood sugar levels, allowing your body to better fight off any infections in your mouth and help relieve dry mouth caused by diabetes.
Make sure you’re brushing your teeth twice a day with a soft bristle toothbrush and cleaning between your teeth. If you wear any kind of denture, make sure to clean it every single day.