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Why a Dentist Belongs on Your Diabetes Care Team
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Type 2 diabetes is a condition that affects how your body processes blood glucose (sugar) — and that means it can impact many aspects of your health. Left unchecked, diabetes can increase the risk of heart and kidney disease, vision problems, and nerve damage. High blood sugar can increase your risk of oral health problems, too. Diabetes-related dental problems can include dry mouth, thrush, tooth decay, gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), and periodontitis (gum infection).
All infections — including serious gum disease — may cause blood sugar to rise and can make diabetes harder to control, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Now, for the good news: By following a healthy lifestyle and checking in with your healthcare team regularly, you may be able to prevent or delay diabetes-related complications. That's why it’s essential to include a dentist as one of the healthcare professionals you see regularly.
How Type 2 Diabetes Can Affect Your Oral Health
When it comes to oral health, one problem can be related to another. “People with uncontrolled diabetes may be at risk for multiple oral complications,” says Mary Vouyiouklis Kellis, MD, an endocrinologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. For example, some people with poor blood sugar control may have dry mouth, which in turn may increase their risk for tooth decay, Dr. Kellis says.
People with type 2 diabetes also may heal poorly as a direct result of diabetes and may be at higher risk for severe gum disease or mouth infection.
“If you have diabetes, it’s important for your dentist and primary care doctor to work together, as improving blood sugar control can also help to improve gum disease,” Kellis says.
Gum Inflammation and Infection: Your Dentist May Notice Complications First
Dentists often have an up-close view of how well your diabetes is controlled — or if it’s not. “When diabetes is under poor control, it shows in the gums,” says New York City dentist Saul Pressner, DMD, president of the Academy of Biomimetic Dentistry. “We will see more gum inflammation and more abscesses — painful, swollen areas — in the mouth.” Dr. Pressner says this is a concern because the gums are the entryway to the bloodstream. When bacteria enter the bloodstream from the gums, it can increase the risk of heart disease — something that people with diabetes already have a greater chance of developing.
Dentists may also identify thrush, an infection caused by fungus that grows in the mouth. “Signs to look out for include white or red patches in areas of your mouth that can get sore or turn into ulcers,” Pressner says.
“Always let your dentist know if you have diabetes so he or she will be extra vigilant," he adds.
Top Oral Health Tips for People With Type 2 Diabetes
Pressner says he urges his dental patients with diabetes to follow a good oral care routine that includes:
- Brushing twice daily
- Flossing at least once a day
- Seeing your dentist twice a year or more
Here are more oral health tips for people with diabetes:
Consider using a water pick.For extra protection, Pressner often recommends that patients use a water pick to flush out debris hiding between teeth so it can’t cause cavities and gum infections.
Stay smoke-free.Another key to oral health is not smoking or quitting if you do, as smoking makes gum disease worse and also increases the risk of heart disease, Pressner says.
Stick to your diabetes management routine.In addition to taking care of your oral health, making sure your diabetes is well-controlled is also important. “Good blood sugar control can also help prevent or relieve dry mouth caused by diabetes,” he says.
In conclusion: Take good care of your teeth and gums on a daily basis, and be aware of anything that seems off, such as sore spots or ulcers in your mouth. Visit your dentist as often as he or she recommends, and check in with your dentist if you think you might be experiencing a problem such as dry mouth, thrush, tooth decay, or gum inflammation or infection.
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