Diabetes and Your Teeth

Diabetes is a serious and growing health problem in Australia and New Zealand. It is a condition where the body is unable to control blood sugar (glucose) levels properly because it is lacking in a hormone called insulin.

People who have diabetes may experience symptoms of being constantly tired, thirsty and passing lots of urine. They may also suffer from blurred vision, rashes, thrush and infections that don't heal.

Some people with diabetes may not experience any of these symptoms but are still at risk of developing heart disease, kidney disorders, blindness, impotence and are more prone to infections.

Diabetes can be managed with healthy eating, regular exercise and in some cases medications or insulin injections.

How does diabetes affect oral health?

People with diabetes have narrower than normal blood vessels as they develop a thicker lining as well as developing fatty deposits by a process called atherosclerosis. As a result, the gums receive a decreased blood supply with less oxygen, fewer nutrients and with less efficient removal of waste products.

People with diabetes are more prone to developing infections including gingivitis and periodontitis. They have a defective immune system which makes them more susceptible to disease. This means they develop more bleeding gums, pocketing, calculus (tartar) and bone loss than people without the condition. Infections and wounds also take longer to heal.

People with diabetes may suffer from decreased saliva flow, which in turn leads to increased dental plaque buildup and calculus (tartar) deposits. This increases the chances of developing periodontal disease.

Does oral health affect diabetes?

Evidence suggests that periodontal disease my not only be a complication of diabetes but it may also result in poor control of diabetes. A recent study analysing periodontal disease and blood sugar levels showed that severe periondontitis was a risk of poor blood sugar control.

What is periodontal disease?

Periodontal disease is an infection of the gums around the teeth and the deeper tissues which hold the teeth in place. About 90% of adults have some periodontal disease. The main cause of periodontal disease is dental plaque, a sticky, colourless film containing millions of bacteria which remains on teeth when they are not cleaned thoroughly. If dental plaque is not removed every day, it can harden to from calculus (tartar) which cannot be removed by brushing or flossing.

What are the signs of periodontal disease?

The bacteria in dental plaque produce chemicals which irritate the gums producing gingivitis which can cause the gums to bleed when teeth are cleaned, look red, swollen and puffy and become loosely attached to teeth. In some individuals gingivitis can progress to periodontitis, a more serious infection of the gum tissues.

Can anything else cause periodontal disease?

Periodontal disease will not develop without dental plaque. Many factors encourage plaque buildup or alter the way the body's defences overcome the effects of the bacteria. Some medical conditions such as diabetes and lifestyle habits such as smoking, severely reduce the body's ability to overcome infection. These conditions increase the chance of developing periodontal disease.

Glucose control is one of the keys to healthy gums?

People who have diabetes can prevent periodontal disease by being aware of their condition and working hard to overcome it. People with diabetes can have normal healthy gums provided their glucose levels are regularly monitored and kept well controlled and their oral hygiene is good.

Good oral hygiene is a must?

To maintain good oral hygiene, it is essential to remove dental plaque from your teeth every day by brushing and flossing.

It is important to use a toothbrush that has a small head and soft bristles so the plaque can be removed from all areas of the mouth without causing damage to teeth and gums.

Source: Colgate Oral Care Brochure - Diabetes and Oral Care

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