Even if you have diabetes, you probably never realized that your blood sugar condition and gum disease are linked in a way that can have profound impacts on your health. First, women and men who have diabetes are three times more likely than people without diabetes to develop gum disease. Second, gum disease (i.e., periodontitis) may contribute to or worsen your diabetes.
Robert Scott Nance, DDS, MS, PA, is an expert dentist who pays special attention to your teeth and gums if you have diabetes. Any kind of tooth pain could be a sign that your gums are infected and need treatment.
It’s extra important to stay alert to your gums and teeth if you have diabetes. You should also be diligent about your biannual dental exams.
Gum disease doesn’t have symptoms at first
When you’re diagnosed with gum disease, it may feel like it came out of nowhere, but it didn’t. Gum disease develops in slow stages. When you’re alert to gum changes, you can get treatment in time to save your gums and teeth.
Stage 1: Plaque
When you eat, you start to digest your food in your mouth as you chew and mix it with saliva. Saliva breaks down carbohydrates, which release sugar. The sugar combines with saliva and bacteria that live in your mouth to create plaque.
Plaque is a sticky substance that coats your teeth after you eat. As the bacteria in the plaque feed on sugar, they produce and release acids as well as other toxins.
If you don’t remove the plaque quickly by brushing your teeth, it acts like a blanket that covers bacteria and acids, holding them close to your teeth. Once bacteria and acids reach the tooth surface, they erode the enamel and enter the tooth, causing decay and infections.
Stage 2: Tartar
If you fail to brush away plaque, it lingers on your teeth. Eventually, the plaque hardens into a crusty brown substance called tartar. The tartar, like plaque, traps and holds bacteria onto your teeth, where they erode your teeth and make their way into your gums.
Stage 3: Infection
The bacteria that invade your gums cause an infection called gingivitis. When you have gingivitis, you probably notice the following troubling symptoms:
- Blood on your toothbrush or sink
- Foul breath odor
- Swollen gums
- Dark red gums
- Receding gums
When plaque spreads underneath the gum line, the acids cause ongoing (i.e., chronic) inflammation. Inflamed gums lead to the next stage: periodontal disease.
Stage 4: Periodontal disease
Periodontal disease (i.e., periodontitis) is the most severe form of gum disease. Without treatment, your gums soften and eventually break down. This allows the infection to penetrate more deeply. Ultimately, periodontitis erodes your underlying jawbone, which puts you at risk for permanent tooth loss.
How diabetes makes gum disease worse
When you have diabetes, you have so much extra glucose in your bloodstream that it damages your blood vessels. The damage, in turn, can cause problems throughout your body. The following explains how diabetes leads to or worsens gum disease.
You produce less saliva.
Saliva washes away toxins and bathes your oral tissues in moisture. When you have diabetes, though, your salivary glands produce less than normal amounts of saliva. Not only does that make your mouth feel dry, but you also don’t have enough saliva to flush away food particles. Thus, your teeth are more vulnerable to tooth decay.
Saliva has two other important functions: blocking bacterial growth and counteracting the acids produced by bacteria. When you don’t have enough saliva, bacteria proliferate and start to form tartar.
Your saliva is sweeter.
If your blood sugar levels rise too high, the sugar levels in your saliva also increase. Since bacteria love sugar, they especially love sugar-sweetened saliva.
In addition, infected gums can, in themselves, elevate your blood sugar levels. This added layer of elevation makes it harder than ever to control your diabetes. You now have an ongoing cycle of less saliva and more bacteria that puts your gums and teeth at risk.
You can’t fight infections
When you have diabetes, your immune system may not be strong enough to fight an early gum infection. That’s because people with diabetes tend to have a more intense inflammatory response to infection. What might be a mild gum infection for most is actually a serious infection for those with diabetes.
Additionally, whether you have a mild or severe gum infection, diabetes can hinder the healing process. High blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels, which reduces the supply of oxygen and nutrients. This puts your gums at greater risk of a worsening infection.
Prevent gum disease now
The first step toward preventing gum disease is to keep your blood sugar within the normal range. Follow a healthy diet, watch your carb consumption, get exercise, and if necessary, take medications to keep blood sugar levels normalized .
Be extra careful of oral health habits with diabetes. Brush at least twice a day with a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Ideally, brush after each meal when you can.
Be sure to clean between your teeth by flossing at least once a day. Use dental floss or a specialized brush that’s designed to fit between teeth.
Getting regular dental care is as crucial as daily brushing and flossing. No matter how diligently you care for your own teeth, tartar may develop. We use specialized instruments to clean your teeth; they’re the only way to eliminate the hardened tartar and plaque that’s formed below your gum line.
If you have diabetes, contact our office in Spring, Texas, to protect your teeth and gums Call us at 281-350-8852, or use our online form.