When we talk about the link between sugar and poor oral health, your mind immediately skips to eating sugar and its potential to cause cavities. There’s a much more dangerous sugar-poor oral health outcome link out there, however. It’s less linked to the sugar you eat, instead of being linked to the sugar levels in your blood. For people who live with diabetes, blood sugar control is a huge factor in having a healthy mouth and smile. Oral health is an integral part of your overall health, and anyone who lives with diabetes knows it is a condition that plays a huge role in overall health. Our understanding of how blood sugar control in diabetic patients changes oral health and is changed by oral health is growing daily. The latest indications show that there are some important links between the two.
Poor blood sugar control is tied to dry mouth. Dry mouth is tied to serious dental woes. Because saliva is the mouth’s natural protective mechanism (it washes away particles of food from the teeth and helps redeposit minerals on the teeth, among other actions), a lack of saliva endangers tooth health. Caries and gum disease follow chronic dry mouth.
Along with dry mouth, diabetes also raises the risk of oral thrush. Oral thrush is an infection of the mouth with a type of fungus. It looks like white, furry patches that can burn or be painful. It grows more readily in people with diabetes. Oral thrush infections are also more common in patients who are struggling with dry mouth.
Your teeth are rooted in your gums; healthy teeth require healthy gums to survive. Unfortunately, if you are living with diabetes, your gums are less likely to be a firm foundation. Gum disease is both more likely to occur and is harder to treat in people with diabetes. Periodontitis, severe gum disease, is particularly complicated to treat in patients with diabetes because it can negatively affect blood sugar control and worsen diabetes.
So what to do?
As always, the first priority for healthy teeth and gums is to maintain good health. Great habits of brushing and flossing well go a long way to helping prevent any problems, as does regular dental visits. If you find yourself experiencing dry mouth, don’t ignore it. Try sugar-free gum or sprays to keep your mouth moistened. If you see red or bleeding gums, talk to your dentist right away. An antibacterial rinse may be part of your treatment plan to help reduce the infection. Most of all, remember that your dental care team is part of your health team and should be kept up to date on medications and other changes in your diabetes treatment plan to help build optimal health.