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How diabetes affects your teeth and oral health

Written by Dr Anitha Anchan |Updated : February 24, 2017 9:54 AM IST

diabetes and oral healthYou probably already know that diabetes can damage your eyes, nerves, kidneys, heart and reduce the body's resistance to infection and slow the healing process. However, what you might now know is that it can affect your teeth, gums and oral cavity as well. And sometimes, these complications might often end up being the first signs that indicate diabetes and aid in the diagnosis.

Frequent gum swelling with pus, increased bone loss in a short duration of time, and gum disease not responding to normal treatment can be signs of diabetes. Gum disease can happen more often, be more severe, and take longer to heal if you have diabetes.

Read more about causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of diabetes

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The most common problems in the mouth associated with diabetes are:

  • Increased tooth decay - Bacteria in the mouth interact with starches and sugars in food to form plaque on your teeth. In diabetics, the increased blood sugar level increases your risk of tooth decay.
  • Increase in severity of gum disease - Our body has innate immunity to fight bacteria that cause plaque which in turn causes gum disease and decay. However, diabetes reduces your body's immunity which in turn increases plaque formation. The bacteria in the plaque cause the gums to get inflamed (swollen and red), resulting in bleeding gums. If plaque is not removed through regular brushing, it will harden to form tartar leading to a more advanced form of gum disease (periodontitis) in which the soft tissue and bone that support your teeth are destroyed. This can lead to loss of teeth.
  • Dry mouth A symptom of undetected diabetes is dry mouth which can be due to drying of the mucus membranes owing to high blood sugar, lack of hydration and/or diabetic neuropathy which weakens the function of the salivary glands thereby decreasing the production of saliva. Dry mouth can lead to increased soreness, ulcers, infections and tooth decay.
  • Fungal infections High sugar levels in the saliva encourages the growth of a type of fungus called Candida and this can cause an infection called the oral thrush. Thrush produces glossy white or red patches (resembling milk curds) in the mouth that can be wiped away to reveal red tissue that may bleed easily. These patches may be painful or may become ulcers. Thrush on the tongue can cause painful burning, difficulty in swallowing and alter your taste sensation.
  • Infection and delayed healing - Diabetes lowers your resistance to infection, delays healing and can complicate gum and oral surgeries. It may also be difficult to control your blood sugar levels after surgery. Doctors ask for blood glucose levels to be checked before any invasive oral procedure or surgery. In case the diabetes is not well controlled, the procedure is usually deferred.

As you can see, the insidious disease diabetes can wreak havoc on all your systems including your mouth and oral health. However, awareness and some proactive action can go a long way in preventing such complications and help you lead a healthy life.

Read more about causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of thrush.

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