Protect those pearly whites! How diabetes can affect your oral health

Jul 31, 2020
One of the best ways to keep your mouth healthy is to establish a good at-home oral care regime. Source: Getty.

Diabetes, which is the fastest-growing chronic condition in the country, not only affects the body’s insulin production, but it can also affect your oral health. In fact, people with poorly controlled diabetes are at an increased risk of developing tooth and gum problems, Tabitha Acret, a dental hygienist at Airflow Dental Spa, tells Starts at 60. This is because they have lowered resistance to infection and may not heal as easily. So to better understand this, with the help of Tabitha we’ve taken a look at the most common oral health problems associated with diabetes.

Oral health problems and diabetes

Tabitha says the most common oral health problems affecting people with diabetes are dry mouth, tooth decay, oral thrush, mouth ulcers, taste disturbances and gum disease.

She says some medications used to treat diabetes can cause dry mouth (when a person does not produce enough saliva) or taste disturbance (an altered or impaired sense of taste). “If this treatment is combined with poor lifestyle choices such as smoking then the likelihood is again increased,” she adds.

And anyone who has lived with dry mouth will know just how frustrating it can be — it can lead to a dry, uncomfortable feeling in the throat, frequent thirst, sores in the mouth and speech difficulties. Not to mention, a lack of saliva in the mouth can also lead to tooth decay and cavities. It doesn’t help that people living with diabetes also have more glucose in their saliva, which can increase your chances of developing tooth decay since bacteria feed on sugar.

“Tooth decay and reoccurring discomfort and pain are telling signs you should visit the dentist immediately,” Tabitha says.

People with diabetes may also be more likely to develop oral thrush, which is a fungal infection caused by an overgrowth of the yeast, known as Candida albicans. The fungus thrives on the high glucose levels in the saliva, while poor resistance to infection and dry mouth can also contribute. Oral thrush causes white or red patches on the skin of the mouth, which can result in discomfort and ulcers.

Diabetes that is not managed well can also lead to periodontal, more commonly known as gum disease, Tabitha says. This is because people living with diabetes have high blood sugar levels, poor resistance to infection and reduced healing capacity.

Tips for keeping your mouth healthy

Tabitha says one of the best ways to keep your mouth healthy is to visit your dentist regularly. “Be sure to tell your dental team of your diabetes diagnosis so they are aware of your increased risk of dental disease,” she adds.

If you have diabetes, Tabitha has a few suggestions on how you can look after your oral health:

  • Keep your diabetes under control by keeping blood glucose levels within the target
  • Follow a healthy and balanced diet
  • Establish a good at-home oral health care regime, brushing at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and flossing daily
  • Book regular appointments with your dental hygienist and flag any worries or concerns
  • Stay hydrated with water and avoid soft drinks and juice.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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