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Diabetes and dental health

Article written by: Victoria Clark – Hygenist

Dental PatientInternational studies show that the prevalence of diabetes is rising globally. Statistics collated in 2009 reveal that over 900,000 Australians are affected by this disease, with many more going undiagnosed. There are several types of diabetes with the most common being Type 1, which is the body’s failure to produce insulin and Type 2, which is when your cells fail to utilise any insulin produced.

Most information about diabetes highlights the risks associated with your eyes, nerves, kidneys, heart and other important systems in the body. But did you know diabetes can also cause problems in your mouth? Yet, unfortunately, caring for the mouth is often overlooked when trying to control other problems associated with diabetes.

One of the biggest complications of diabetes is the inability to heal from infections and wounds at a normal healthy rate. Blood flow is essential for the provision of oxygen and nutrients to all the cells of the body including the oral environment. People with diabetes are two to three times more likely to have destructive periodontal disease, such as gum disease.

Periodontal disease progresses more rapidly and is often more severe in individuals with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. And not only are people with diabetes more susceptible to periodontal disease, but the presence of the disease can worsen their glycemic control. People who have poor blood glucose control are also at a greater risk of getting infections. These include oral infections such as ulcers, thrush and stomatitis (a fungal infection usually associated with dentures).

“People with diabetes are two to three times more likely to have destructive periodontal disease, such as gum disease.”

Dental decay is an oral disease that affects everybody, but especially those who have diabetes. This is mainly due to higher sugar (glucose) levels in the saliva surrounding the teeth. Often a lack of saliva, usually due to increased urination or some drug therapies, can further increase their risk of tooth decay as plaque acids are not diluted as readily. Their dental plaque also tends to be thicker and more difficult to remove.

So what can you do? Good blood glucose control is key to controlling and preventing mouth problems. Daily brushing and flossing, regular dental check-ups and professional cleaning with your hygienist are the best defence against the oral complications of diabetes.

The most obvious signs and symptoms of diabetes are an increased need to urinate, increased thirst and hunger and often fatigue. There can be abnormal and fast weight loss in some cases and no weight loss in others. If you are concerned then don’t hesitate to visit your doctor and get the necessary diagnostic tests. If you do have a diagnosis, don’t forget to get regular dental checks as we can help to manage and minimise the damage that diabetes can cause your mouth.