Every 23 seconds, someone in the United States is diagnosed with diabetes. It’s estimated that one in 11 Americans has the disease—more than 29 million people—and another 86 million have prediabetes and are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.
November is American Diabetes Month. It is a time to focus the nation’s attention on the many people who are affected by diabetes and to raise the urgency about the need to address diabetes.
Diabetes and Your Teeth
Many people with diabetes are aware that their medical condition increases their risk for developing oral health problems, such as gingivitis (early stage gum disease) and periodontitis (serious gum disease). Diabetes can cause blood vessels to thicken, reducing their ability to remove waste products and deliver nourishment and oxygen to body tissues, including the gums. So people with diabetes have a heightened susceptibility to bacterial infection, and a decreased ability to combat oral bacteria.
If your blood glucose levels are well- controlled, your risk of serious oral health complications is similar to those of people without diabetes. But much of the population of the U.S. will experience gingivitis (the mildest form of gum disease) during some point in their lives; while 30% to 40% of us will experience periodontitis (the severe form of gum disease).
New research also indicates that serious gum disease may have the potential to affect blood glucose control and contribute to the progression of diabetes. Good oral health can help you manage your diabetes.
Taking Care Of Your Teeth
Bacterial plaque is the primary cause of 90% of all dental disease. Bacteria secrete acidic waste products. This creates an acidic environment in your mouth that weakens teeth and leads to decay. Over time, without proper oral hygiene and dental care, the plaque clinging to teeth works its way under the gums, resulting in oral infections.
Your best defense is consistent removal of the bacterial plaque. If its left alone for about 48 hours, it begins to harden – this is called tartar – and is extremely difficult to remove by simple brushing and flossing. You need professional cleanings to remove tartar. Even if you do brush regularly, it’s easy to miss tartar that can be lurking between your teeth, in tiny chips and cracks, or just under the gum line.
Regular brushing and flossing may be enough to keep these harmful bacteria under control. In the absence of good oral hygiene, however, a sticky substance called plaque starts to build up on the surfaces of your teeth—and that’s where harmful bacteria can flourish. Put plaque bacteria together with a lowered resistance to bacterial infection, and you’ve got a recipe for a more aggressive gum disease than normal.
Gingivitis, if left untreated, can progress to a more serious form of gum disease called periodontitis. This is a bacterial infection that can attack not only the gums, but also the bone that supports the teeth; the loss of supporting bone can eventually lead to tooth loss. People with diabetes have a significantly higher rate of tooth loss than the general population.
Other oral problems associated to diabetes include thrush, an infection caused by fungus that grows in the mouth. Diabetes can also cause dry mouth. Salvia is the mouth’s major defense against tooth decay, and also helps to control the bacteria and other microorganisms that live in your mouth. Too little salvia can cause accelerated tooth decay, gum disease, oral sores and pain, bad breath and even interfere with your ability to taste.
Talk To Your Dentist
Let your dentist and dental hygienist know that you have diabetes, and keep them up-to-date on your medical status and medications. Your dentist will likely want to see you every six months for checkups and cleanings, perhaps more if you show signs of having an oral infection. It’s likely that you will need to postpone dental treatments if your blood sugar is not well-controlled, talk to your dentist and medical team for more information about dental health and diabetes.
Oral health is obviously a critical component of managing your diabetes. If you’ve been avoiding seeing the dentist or dental hygienist as often as you should due to costs, consider dental savings plans.
Dental savings plans are an affordable alternative to dental insurance, providing plan members with discounts on most dental services. As an example, the majority of plans you’ll find on dentalplans.com offer savings of 10%-60% at the dentist.
Dental savings plan members pay a low annual membership fee for access to an extensive network of participating dentists and dental specialists that provide discounts on dental care at the time of service. Since they are not dental insurance, dental savings plans do not have co-payments, deductibles, paperwork hassles or annual spending limits.
Find out more about dental savings plans at dentalplans.com.