Diabetes and your dental care – what’s useful to know

It is estimated that over 1.7 million Australians have diabetes, so it is important that we all know how it can affect our overall health and dental health. If you have diabetes, maintaining normal blood sugar levels will be just one part of your management plan. Your mouth also needs to be prioritised to reduce the risk of developing diabetes related complications. 

The risk of developing oral conditions such as tooth decay, oral thrush and low levels of saliva are increased with diabetes. The type of diabetes, (Type 1 insulin dependent or Type 2 diet controlled) and how well it is managed will also have an influence on these conditions. Children with Type 1 diabetes are at a much higher risk of developing tooth decay than those without diabetes.

Importantly, diabetics (Type 1 and 2) are also at risk of developing gingivitis and periodontitis (gum disease). These are a group of inflammatory conditions affecting the gums and bones which surround the teeth.  Around one third of people with diabetes have severe gum disease. Research has shown that as well as high blood sugar levels increasing the likelihood of developing gum disease, once this oral disease is present, it can also negatively influence blood sugar levels. Essentially, both diabetes and gum disease are connected, and effective management and treatment has a positive effect on both conditions. 

Another group that can develop diabetes is pregnant women. Gestational diabetes has been linked with periodontal disease and an increased risk of developing pre-eclampsia.

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Your mouth and blood glucose levels

Though diabetics are at a greater risk of developing gum disease, especially when their blood sugar levels are unstable, this risk decreases as glucose levels reach ideal levels. Stable, well managed diabetics have the same risk of developing gum disease as non-diabetics. However, other mouth conditions such as altered taste, slow healing as well as tooth decay are more common in diabetics.

Hypoglycaemia – what to do after treatment

After treating episodes of low blood sugar levels with fast acting carbohydrates, remember to drink plain water once you’re feeling stable. This will help to rinse sugar and acid from your teeth and reduce the likelihood of decay. Wait an hour before brushing your teeth.    

Top 5 oral health tips for diabetics

Caring well for your teeth doesn’t need to be complicated. What is important is to maintain regular habits that support your oral health by:

  1. Seeing your dentist regularly. Gum disease is not always painful, especially in the early stages when diagnosis and treatment can save vulnerable teeth and minimise bone loss. It is also very important that children diagnosed with diabetes are seen by a dentist on a regular basis.
  2. Brushing your teeth twice each day with a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Use floss or interdental brushes to clean the spaces your toothbrush can’t reach. Food left in-between the gums and teeth can cause inflammation and changes in the way gum tissue attaches to teeth and bone.
  3. Eating a diet low in sugar which helps to stabilise healthy blood sugar levels. Speak with your healthcare provider about ways to support your body’s diabetic needs.
  4. Drinking fluoridated tap water when you can.
  5. Avoid smoking. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes have a direct impact on blood flow to all blood vessels, including those in the mouth.

If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, there is a lot that you and your dentist can do to maintain your oral health and reduce your risk of complications. Book an appointment to discuss your individual needs.   









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