Why Diabetes Causes Mouth Problems (and vice versa)

Rather than there being a singular reason why diabetes can lead to oral health problems, a few factors exist. It is perhaps easier to think of the link in reverse, to think of the requirements that are necessary for mouth problems to flourish.

High levels of sugar and starch interact with naturally occurring bacteria in the mouth to create plaque, a sticky film that attaches itself to teeth. The acids in this plaque attack the surface of teeth, potentially leading to cavities and gum disease. Given that diabetes leads to periods where the blood sugar level is raised, the supply of sugar and starch to the bacteria in the mouth is increased.

The more plaque created, the more damage done.

Oral Health Issues That Can Be Brought on By Diabetes

The build-up of plaque we mentioned in the first section can lead to issues ranging from Gingivitis, which is problematic but relatively easy to treat through to more aggressive gum disease, also known as periodontitis.

Gingivitis is caused when the plaque persists on the tooth surface, over time this irritates the gums and they become swollen and bleed easily. Bad breath is also a common side effect. As unpleasant as gingivitis might be, it is not a condition that does long term damage by itself and is fairly easy to treat – the removal of the tartar by a dental hygienist the only treatment required.

However, gingivitis can become periodontitis, the more serious version of gum disease, a condition that leads to the erosion of tissue and bone and can make teeth become loose and eventually be at risk of falling out.

How To Reduce The Risk Of Oral Health Problems.

Much of the advice for a person with diabetes is the same as for anyone and it starts with a good oral hygiene routine. Your teeth should be brushed twice a day and electric toothbrushes are recommended – also don’t forget to floss or use an inter dental brush.
The food you eat also has an impact on your dental health – food high in sugar or acid being clearly problematic, we have written a blog post with further information on foods to avoid (here).

Next Steps

The next steps for anyone with diabetes and concern over their oral health are straightforward, work to improve your oral hygiene and make sensible adjustments to your diet (and smokers, do try to quit, or at least cut down). Equally important, arrange a check up with a dentist, ideally a practice that also has a team of hygienists and a periodontist (a dentist who specialises in gum disease) so that there is easy referral if any gum issues are identified.

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