Diabetes mellitus, more commonly known as diabetes, is a chronic health condition that affects the way your body turns food into energy. Diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases affecting people living in Canada, with approximately 3 million Canadians suffering from type 2 or type 1 diabetes. People who have diabetes either don’t make enough insulin (a hormone produced by your pancreas that helps regulate your blood sugar levels), or insulin isn’t as effective.
You might be aware of a connection between your oral health and this common chronic condition, but do you know why? We will go into detail in this article.
- Gum Health:
Diabetes can be a risk factor for gum disease, otherwise known as periodontitis. On the flip side, gum disease can also make it more difficult for people with diabetes to properly control their glucose levels because the chronic inflammation that is attributed to periodontitis may also possibly contribute to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is when cells in your muscles, fat, and liver don’t respond well to insulin and can’t easily take up glucose from your blood. As a result, your pancreas makes more insulin to help glucose enter your cells. (1)
2. Dry mouth and cavities:
Diabetics often experience something known as dry mouth (xerostomia), which is a condition where the mouth doesn’t produce enough saliva. A lack of sufficient saliva can contribute to the formation of cavities. Saliva is crucial for maintaining oral health as it helps moisten the mouth, aids in digestion, and protects against tooth decay by neutralizing acids and washing away food particles.
Additionally, elevated blood sugar levels can lead to increased urine production and subsequent dehydration. Dehydration can contribute to a dry mouth and may exacerbate the reduction in saliva flow.
Both can be compounded by neuropathy, a condition where saliva production is inhibited when the nerve endings that signal dry mouth are damaged. This prevents the patient from realizing they are dehydrated and are suffering from dry mouth, as they don’t think they are thirsty.
3. Impaired healing:
Diabetes can also potentially impede the body’s natural ability to heal efficiently and effectively due to high blood sugar levels. Constant or frequent levels of high blood sugar can cause the body to inflame, sending the immune system into overdrive. This constant war against sugar can lead to a weakened immune system that won’t be able to fight off viruses, diseases, infections, or other serious injuries. This can also be problematic for those who need oral surgery, extractions, or dental implants. Poorly managed diabetes can result in an increased risk of infection, delayed healing, increased scarring, and additional health complications.
4. Thrush (oral candidiasis):
People with diabetes can also suffer from an increased frequency of developing a fungal infection of the mouth and tongue known as “thrush.” Thrush appears as creamy white or yellowish lesions on the tongue, inner cheeks, the roof of the mouth (palate), gums, and sometimes the tonsils and back of the throat. It can also cause loss of taste, oral bleeding, and cracking of the lips in the corner of the month. The root cause of this fungal infection is the high glucose levels in the saliva of people with unmanaged diabetes. (2) Wearing dentures can also lead to an increased risk of thrush, especially if they’re not cleaned regularly or removed at night.
If you are diabetic, it’s imperative to keep your blood sugar levels in check, make regular dental appointments, sip water throughout the day or chew gum to combat dry mouth, and brush and floss twice a day. If you have any questions about diabetes or dental health or if you just remembered you’re overdue for your next cleaning (because you probably are), please visit our Regina, Saskatoon or Calgary locations.