Diabetes and Oral Health: Dealing With Dental Problems

Diabetic statistics are staggering. According to theDiabetes Australia, more than 1.7million Australians have diabetes, but just about one-third of these patients are diagnosed with the condition. At least, 2 to 3 million Australians have pre-diabetes and uncontrolled diabetes that is actively but silently destroying every part of their body.


Diabetes: The Silent Killer

Diabetes is caused by a deficiency of the human hormone insulin. In simple terms, insulin is responsible for ferrying blood sugar into body cells. Inside the body cells, the sugar is broken down to generate energy to run the body. However, due to many reasons like obesity, lifestyle changes, etc, the patient’s pancreas cannot make enough insulin, and this means that sugar remains in blood. As the sugar-saturated blood circulates all over the body, the extra sugar (which should have been used as body fuel) irritates every tissue and organ causing extensive damage and irreparable injury.

Diabetes and Oral Health Complications

Diabetes affects every body part, but it can cause serious complications in the oral cavity. One of the major reasons for this is that the oral cavity is filled with millions of opportunistic bacteria. Ordinarily, healthy gum tissue and teeth maintain a balance with the bacteria and most patients do not experience any dental problems at all. However, in diabetes, the oral tissues are saturated with sugar-filled blood. The poorly controlled sugar levels damages the gum tissue and increases the chances of developing a range of oral health problems. The most common oral health problems associated with diabetes are as follows:

Tooth Decay and Foul Oral Odour

High glucose levels in saliva act as a nutrient or food for oral bacteria. Diabetic patients will have cavities that occur rapidly and with increasing frequency. Some patients may also experience foul oral breath due to the salivary glucose levels.

Gum Problems

Diabetes reduces the strength of the body’s immune system. At the same time, it damages oral tissue and makes it prone to infection. Oral bacteria attack and destroy gum and gingival tissue making it prone to infections and bleeding. The problems starts as simple gingival bleeding and slowly progresses to a widespread periodontal infection involving bone loss, tooth mobility, soft swollen gums that bleed at the slightest touch and eventually, tooth loss.

Salivary Gland Damage

Diabetes damages the salivary glands and patient will experience low saliva production and dry mouth. Salivary gland stones, and salivary gland enlargement is also very common in diabetic patients. Diabetics often experience taste deficiencies as well, but the actual mechanism of action is unknown.Conditions like Glossodynia or painful tongue, Burning Mouth syndrome due to low saliva production and damaged oral membranes, lichen planus (an oral condition), lichenoid reactions, etc. are also symptoms of diabetes.

Frequent Infections

The high sugar levels in blood, saliva and oral tissues acts as an incubator for bacteria. With such a rich food source, bacterial infections are common and patients frequently experience oral infections like thrush, bacterial infections, etc.

Delayed Healing

Diabetic patients usually experience delayed healing due to poor blood circulation. Damage to the oral tissues during treatment or during normal oral activities can result in a fissured tongues, irritation fibromas or swellings and traumatic ulcers that just do not heal at all. Most of these conditions can be controlled with simple topical medications, oral mouthwashes, antibiotics or antifungal. However, intensive dental treatment may be necessary for conditions like cavities, fractured teeth and trauma.

Dealing with Dental Side Effects of Diabetes

If you have been recently diagnosed with diabetes, it is a good idea to consult both your dentist and physician before starting dental treatment. Most dentists are trained to deal with diabetic patients, and they will make the process as stress-free, short and comfortable as possible. They may also schedule morning appointments as blood glucose levels are usually under better control in the morning. The dentist will also recommend you eat well and take your morning dose of anti-diabetic medication or insulin before you come for treatment

The best way to prevent all these oral health complications is to get your diabetes under control. Ideally, everyone over the age of 30 should do a fasting blood sugar, triglycerides and cholesterol test once a year. After the age of 35, a biannual blood test is recommended, and as age advances, blood tests should be done with increasing frequency to catch diabetes and concomitant conditions early. This is particularly important in Indigenous Australians, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian and Black Caribbean ethnic groups due to a higher prevalence of diabetes.

The bad news is that diabetes has no permanent cure and prevention is the option, but the good news is that early diabetes is very easy to control with lifestyle changes, increased exercise and dietary control.