Ask Dr. J
Diabetes And Gum Disease: A Circle Of Destruction
According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes affects 18 million people in the United States, and about 171 million people worldwide. It has reached epidemic status, and is a disease that is characterized by an increased susceptibility to infection and poor wound healing.
What many people do not realize is that it also has a detrimental effect on dental health. It is a known risk factor for serious periodontitis and the destruction of tissues supporting the bone that forms around the tooth. Periodontal disease is commonly known as gum disease, which plays off of diabetes in a circle of destruction.
Diabetes And Gum Disease Defined
Diabetes is where the body has difficulty regulating sugar, and so diabetics have to be their own pancreas. Through diet, exercise and medication, they regulate their own sugar.
Gum disease occurs when bacteria get into the space between the teeth and the gums and produce toxins that cause the bone around the teeth to go away. This eventually causes the tooth to loosen and fall out.
The Circle Of Destruction
As a dentist, I can tell if someone has diabetes because their gums are often swollen and have a tendency to grow, creating more space for the bacteria. These bacteria also eat the sugar and make toxins that cause difficulties with sugar regulation. Gum disease and diabetes cause each other to get worse, literally feeding off of one another. As this progresses, controlling sugar grows increasingly difficult.
Diabetics are familiar with the need for a good and careful diet, regular exercise, and diabetes drugs (like insulin). They may not have been aware that their own gums were adding to their struggle.
The best option is preventative care, which means regular dental checkups, ideally every six months, but at least once a year, minimum. Healthy habits at home are necessary, too. In between dental checkups, a practice of regular brushing in the morning after breakfast and flossing and brushing at night before bed are a must. Remember to avoid eating after brushing in the evening.
If you are diagnosed with gum disease, coming in to see the dentist only twice a year will likely not be enough. The gum disease will progress. I recommend seeing a dentist every three months for a deep cleaning to halt the disease in its tracks and to retain optimal health for both the mouth and the body.