Ever get tired of hearing the same spiel at each and every routine dental appointment? You know, the one about flossing regularly and the slew of benefits that come with doing just that?
Well, there’s a reason for it. As the American Dental Association (ADA) explains, cleaning between your teeth helps remove a sticky substance called plaque. Plaque is made up of bacteria, mucus, and food particles—all the things that can find a place to call home in between your pearly whites.
And, when plaque isn’t removed by brushing and flossing between your teeth, it can eventually harden into a rough substance called tartar. This tartar then collects along your gum line and can lead to an infection of the tissues that surround and support your teeth. Or, what’s better known as gum disease (or periodontal disease).
While there is a list of other causes as well as risk factors that can lead to developing this generally painless disease, did you know that people with diabetes are at greater risk?
In fact, diabetes and gum disease is a two-way street. And, we’re here to explain why, as well as the stages of periodontal disease, warning signs and symptoms to look for, and lastly, treatment.
Why does diabetes and gum disease go hand-in-hand?
According to the American Diabetes Association, not only are people with diabetes more susceptible to serious gum disease (precisely 4.2x more) because they have a decreased ability to ward off bacteria that invade the gums.
But, severe gum disease may also have the potential to affect blood glucose control and contribute to a never-ending cycle of problems with diabetes and oral health.
What are the stages of gum disease?
There are three stages of gum disease to familiarize yourself with. They are:
- Gingivitis: this is the earliest stage of gum disease. It involves an inflammation of the gums, which is caused by plaque buildup at the gumline. If this plaque isn’t removed with daily brushing and flossing, again, it’ll produce tartar that can irritate the gum tissue, leading to gingivitis. The good news is, however, because this is the earliest stage in gum disease, damage can be reversed as the bone and connective tissue that surround and hold the teeth in place are not yet affected.
- Periodontitis: at this second stage, the damage to the bone and fibers that support your teeth is irreversible. As a result, your gums may begin to form a pocket under the gumline, which then serves as a greater trap for food and plaque. Appropriate dental treatment and enhanced oral hygiene on your end can typically assist with preventing any further damage.
Advanced Periodontitis: at this final stage of gum disease, the fibers and bone that support your teeth are essentially destroyed, which can cause your teeth to either shift or loosen. This can then affect your bite and, if aggressive treatment can’t save your smile, you may need to have your teeth removed.
So, what are the warning signs and symptoms to look for?
When it comes to diabetes and oral health, early detection is critical. As mentioned previously, gum disease is generally painless, and some people have no signs or symptoms. On the other hand, if the disease has progressed, you may experience many symptoms.
Therefore, if you notice any of the following, don’t delay an appointment with your dentist to get the necessary treatment as soon as possible.
- Red, puffy, swollen, or tender gums
- Bleeding gums while brushing or flossing
- Teeth that look longer due to receding gums
- Changes in your bite
- Loose or shifting teeth
- Continuous bad breath or foul taste in your mouth
How can you fight off gum disease if you have diabetes?
If you have diabetes, it may seem as if you already have a long list of things to monitor and take care of day in and day out. But, the first and most important step to fighting off gum disease is to control your blood glucose level. Reason being, those with uncontrolled diabetes tend to get periodontitis (the second stage of gum disease) more often than the average person or those who keep their diabetes under control.
From there, you can take additional measures to prevent gum disease (and other oral health issues) such as:
- Practice good oral hygiene at home—brushing your teeth and gum line with fluoride toothpaste for two minutes at least twice a day and daily flossing.
- Attend routine check-ups (preferably every six months, but no less than once a year) with your dentist.
- Avoid acidic drinks such as soda, energy drinks, and water with acidic fruits.
- If you wear them, keep your dentures clean and take them out at night to soak them in a cleaning solution.
- Avoid smoking.
- Make your dentist aware of your diabetes. Each patient’s medical history is held in the strictest confidence, and will be kept between you and your dental care providers.
What can you expect at your next check-up?
Are you a diabetic or pre-diabetic? If so, you are aware of the particular needs you have, which your dentist and hygienist are ready to meet. But, only with your help, of course.
Give us a call today to get an appointment on the schedule during which you can keep us informed of your condition and any medication you may currently be taking, while we provide you with the appropriate treatment. Also, please keep in mind that if your blood sugar is not in good control, it’s always best to postpone any non-emergency procedures or check-ups.
Dr. Felicity is a National Board Certified Dentist and a Longtime resident of Charleston.