November is National Diabetes Month, which helps raise awareness for people who face the day-to-day struggles of the disease. If you’re a diabetic, you likely keep an eye on your diet and nutrition. Diabetics are more at risk for a variety of different conditions, especially dental health problems, including gum disease, dry mouth, tooth decay and oral infections. In fact, people with diabetes are twice as likely to develop gum disease than those with normal glucose function.
During this month, the American Diabetes Association wants to put the ever-growing disease in the national spotlight. At the beginning of November, they asked people to submit a personal image to the association’s Facebook mosaic demonstrating what “A Day in the Life of Diabetes” means to them. If you or anyone you know has diabetes, you already understand how life-changing the condition can be. According to the association, almost 26 million children and adults in the U.S. have diabetes. Another 79 million Americans have prediabetes, or impaired glucose tolerance, and are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
Raising awareness of diabetes
Diabetes is a chronic disease which affects how the body breaks down sugar, or glucose, which is the brain’s main source of fuel. Normally, insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, keeps blood glucose in check. However, those who have diabetes experience insulin resistance, which results in high levels of blood sugar.
There are three main variations of the disease: type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes. Totaling 90 to 95 percent of all new cases worldwide, type 2 is by far the most common form of diabetes.
So, where does the health of your mouth enter the picture? Diabetes can lead to a spectrum of dental issues, with gum disease and dry mouth at the forefront.
Though periodontal disease, or gum disease, is regarded as a complication of diabetes, the connection is a two-way street; diabetics are more prone to gum disease, and in turn, gum disease can influence the development of diabetes.
“Periodontal disease further complicates diabetes because the inflammation impairs the body’s ability to utilize insulin,” Pamela McClain, DDS, president of the American Academy of Periodontology, explained to WebMD.
On the other hand, high blood sugar provides a breeding ground for plaque to form in your mouth. If not removed by brushing or flossing, the plaque can harden below the gum line, and the longer it stays there, the greater your risk for inflammation. It should be known that gingivitis, or the early phase of gum disease, is inflammation of the gums – exactly what diabetes triggers.
Diabetes also causes dry mouth. This condition is precisely what it sounds like – you have a dry, sticky sensation around your gums, lips and back of the throat. Since diabetes alters the production of the salivary glands, it can often make chewing, swallowing and eating difficult.
A liquid-less mouth is dangerous because it leaves a hospitable environment for bacteria to accumulate. When working properly, saliva offers antimicrobial protection for your teeth and gums, rinsing out cavity-causing plaque and bacteria.
Good oral hygiene habits become increasingly important for those living with diabetes, so be sure to brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes each time and floss daily. When you’re not at home, it’s helpful to sip water frequently, chew gum with xylitol and avoid tobacco and alcohol.
Diabetes doesn’t stop at the end of November. It is an ongoing disease with side effects that can be fought if understood and managed properly. Stay up on your dental health routine and, of course, keep smiling.