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Dental Care and Diabetes

The Importance of Dental Care With Diabetes

Diabetes is a disease that can affect the whole body, including your mouth. Dental care is particularly important for people with diabetes because they face a higher than normal risk of oral health problems due to poorly controlled blood sugars. The less well controlled the blood sugar, the more likely oral health problems will arise. This is because uncontrolled diabetes impairs white blood cells, which are the body's main defense against bacterial infections that can occur in the mouth.

What Dental Problems Are People With Diabetes at Higher Risk For?

People with diabetes face a higher risk of:

  • Dry mouth. Uncontrolled diabetes can decrease saliva flow, resulting in dry mouth. Dry mouth can further lead to soreness, ulcers, infections, and tooth decay.
  • Gum inflammation (gingivitis and periodontitis). Besides impairing white blood cells, another complication of diabetes is that it causes blood vessels to thicken, which slows the flow of nutrients to and waste products from body tissues, including the mouth. When this combination of events happens, the body's ability to fight infections is reduced. Since periodontal disease is a bacterial infection, diabetics with uncontrolled disease may experience more frequent and more severe gum disease.
  • Poor healing of oral tissues. People with uncontrolled diabetes do not heal quickly after oral surgery or other dental procedures because blood flow to the treatment site can be impaired.
  • Thrush. People with diabetes who frequently take antibiotics to fight various infections are especially prone to developing a fungal infection of the mouth and tongue. The fungus thrives on the high levels of sugar in the saliva of people with uncontrolled diabetes.
  • Burning mouth and/or tongue. This condition is caused by the presence of thrush.

People with diabetes who smoke are at even a higher risk -- up to 20 times more likely than nonsmokers -- for the development of thrush and periodontal disease. Smoking also seems to impair blood flow to the gums -- which may affect wound healing in this tissue area.

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