Even people who’ve lived with diabetes for years often don’t know that they have a threefold higher risk of developing gum disease than those without diabetes.
November is Diabetes Awareness Month, which makes it an ideal time to explain how these two conditions intersect. The board-certified dentists at Trident Dental in Houston, TX, break down everything you need to know about the link between diabetes and gum disease, known as periodontitis.
Individuals with diabetes must be vigilant about their gum and teeth health. Any discomfort or pain in your teeth could indicate gum infection that requires immediate treatment.
Gum disease often develops silently
Gum disease gradually progresses through various stages. When you consume food, the initial stages of digestion occur in your mouth as you chew and mix it with saliva. Saliva breaks down carbohydrates, releasing sugar. This sugar combines with saliva and the natural bacteria in your mouth to form plaque, the first stage of gum disease.
Stage 1: Plaque
Plague is a sticky substance that adheres to your teeth after eating. As bacteria in plaque metabolize sugar, they release acids and other harmful toxins. Without prompt removal through proper brushing, plaque acts as a shield, keeping bacteria and acids close to your teeth. Over time, these invaders erode tooth enamel, leading to decay and infections.
Stage 2: Tartar buildup
If you neglect to remove plaque through regular brushing, it solidifies into a tough, brown substance known as tartar. Similar to plaque, tartar serves as a host for bacteria, leading to further tooth and gum damage.
Stage 3: Infection
Bacteria infiltrating your gums can trigger gingivitis, an early-stage gum infection.
Symptoms of gingivitis may include blood on your toothbrush or in the sink, bad breath, swollen gums, dark red gums, and gum recession.
As plaque extends below the gum line, the resulting acids induce persistent inflammation, known as chronic inflammation, setting the stage for periodontal disease.
Stage 4: Advanced periodontal disease
Periodontal disease, or periodontitis, represents the most severe form of gum disease. Without appropriate treatment, your gums will deteriorate, enabling infections to penetrate deeper into your oral tissues. Ultimately, periodontitis can lead to the erosion of the underlying jawbone, increasing the risk of permanent tooth loss.
How diabetes exacerbates gum disease
Diabetes can worsen gum disease in several ways due to the excess glucose in the bloodstream, which damages blood vessels and has systemic implications.
- Reduced saliva production: Diabetes often leads to decreased saliva production. This not only causes a dry mouth sensation but also leaves teeth vulnerable to decay. Saliva also plays a role in inhibiting bacterial growth and neutralizing acids. With insufficient saliva, bacteria can flourish and contribute to tartar formation.
- Elevated sugar levels in saliva: High blood sugar levels associated with diabetes can result in increased sugar levels in your saliva. Since bacteria thrive on sugar, particularly in a sugar-rich oral environment.
- Weakened immune response: Individuals with diabetes may have a less effective immune response against gum infections, which tend to be more severe in this population. Additionally, diabetes can hinder the healing process, as high blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels, reducing the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the gums and making them more susceptible to infections.
Preventing gum disease
To reduce the risk of gum disease, it's essential to maintain healthy blood sugar levels through a balanced diet, carbohydrate management, exercise, and prescribed medications when necessary. For those with diabetes, paying extra attention to oral health is crucial:
- Brush at least twice a day with a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. If possible, brush after each meal.
- Floss daily between your teeth.
- Regular dental check-ups are essential for removing hardened tartar and plaque below the gum line.
Your oral health is an integral part of your overall well-being, especially when managing diabetes. For all your oral healthcare needs, call or click here to schedule an appointment at Trident Dental.