The Link Between Diabetes and Your Teeth

The Link Between Diabetes and Your Teeth

We’ve all known friends or loved ones with diabetes. Perhaps, it’s our own personal battle fought day in, day out. Terms like high blood sugar, insulin, glucose, Type 1, and Type 2 are all too familiar – but do we really understand how diabetes affects our body? Or, that diabetes can affect our entire body, including teeth?

What Is Diabetes?

According to research, more than 30 million Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes. In 2019, 463 million people had it worldwide (8.8% of the adult population). Furthermore, experts suggest that rates will continue to rise.

“Diabetes mellitus refers to a group of diseases that affect how your body uses blood sugar (glucose),” states the Mayo Clinic. Diabetes occurs when the body is unable to regulate the amount of glucose in the blood. Levels of glucose are controlled by a hormone called insulin. In a diabetes patient, the pancreas is not making enough insulin or able to use it correctly. Consequently, this causes glucose levels to rise in the blood creating symptoms like:

Types of Diabetes

There are two types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. The first type is less common and is usually diagnosed at a younger age. Type 1 patients are unable to make insulin because the body’s immune system attacks cells in the pancreas that produce it.

Type 2 is commonly diagnosed in older adults and caused by the pancreas not producing enough insulin for the body over time. Type 2 progresses over a lifetime and is tied to genetics and diet.

The Dental Connection

 So, what is the connection between diabetes and dental health? As previously mentioned, diabetes affects the body’s ability to tightly control blood sugar levels. Elevated blood sugar causes higher sugar levels in sulcular fluid (the fluid that comes from the space between the teeth and the gums). Elevated blood sugar also delays wound healing. The elevated sugar feed bacteria around the gums and in the mouth. When bacteria have more food, they increase in number and strength. The end result is bacteria causing more damage, and the body is less able to fix the damage.

What does this have to do with your oral health?

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, “People with diabetes have a higher chance of having periodontal disease, an infection of the gum and bone that hold the teeth in place.” Periodontal disease occurs when bacteria infect the gums and bone. When this happens, the body removes the unhealthy bone around the teeth. In a diabetic patient, the bacteria have more food (sugar), which causes more disease. The body cannot heal as well, which causes even more destruction of the bone. Ultimately, diabetic patients are more likely to get gum and bone disease and are more likely to have complications from it.

The American Dental Association says that oral signs of untreated diabetes include:

Prevention and Treatment

Dentists and staff are trained to recognize oral signs of undiagnosed or poorly controlled diabetes. This is one of the many reasons why it’s important to make and keep regular dental appointments. Dentists recommend the following to-do list for taking good care of your gums and teeth:

Managing diabetes is not easy, but with the help of a health care team, you can live a normal life. Treatment for diabetes ranges from monitoring blood sugar levels to sticking to a diet and exercise plan. Specifically, Type 1 is treated by adjusting diet, and by administering regular insulin injections. This creates a healthy level of blood sugar in the body.

And, similar to Type 1, Type 2 diabetes can be regulated through diet, exercise, and medication. According to Harvard’s School of Public Health, “The good news is that type 2 diabetes (as well as prediabetes) are largely preventable. About 9 in 10 cases in the U.S. can be avoided by healthy lifestyle practices, including controlling your weight, following a healthy diet, staying active, and not smoking.”