You've no doubt heard this advice for keeping your mouth healthy your entire life: Brush, floss, and see your dentist for regular checkups.
"These are things that all of us should be doing," says Robert A. Gabbay, MD, PhD, chief medical officer at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. "But it's even more important for people with diabetes because the stakes are a lot higher."
Does the light touch of a bed sheet make your feet burn? Does your heart sometimes race when you’re resting? Do you have problems with sexual arousal?
As different as these symptoms are, they can all have the same cause: diabetic nerve damage, also known as diabetic neuropathy. About half of people with diabetes develop nerve damage. The two most common forms are:
peripheral neuropathy, which affects the nerves that serve the farthest reaches of the body, such as the legs and hands;
Why? When you have diabetes, you're at greater risk for dental problems, including gum disease, Gabbay says. And if you don't keep your blood sugar in check, that makes you "more likely to get infections of the mouth," Gabbay says. "And infections of the mouth make it more likely that blood sugars are poorly controlled."
Diabetes can also lead to dry mouth, caused by having less saliva, which can make you more prone to cavities. And high blood sugar raises your chances of getting thrush, an often painful fungal infection that causes white or red patches in your mouth, according to the American Diabetes Association.
What are some warning signs that you should see your dentist immediately? Tooth pain, bleeding when brushing, gums pulling away from your teeth, or dentures that start to fit poorly, Gabbay says. "And of course infection -- painful, red, swollen, tender gums or pus. Even persistent bad breath can be a sign of poor oral hygiene that should be cared for."
Some people may not have any warning signs of gum disease, so be sure to see your dentist twice a year for checkups.
Here are questions to ask at your next appointment:
How does having diabetes affect my teeth and gums?
What kinds of mouth symptoms should I watch out for?
What can I do to prevent dry mouth?
Could medications be causing dry mouth?
How often should I get my teeth checked?
Practice good habits to keep your mouth healthy. Brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, floss daily, and remove and clean dentures if you wear them.
If you smoke, quit. Smoking increases your risk of getting gum disease and makes it harder to treat. Ask your dentist or doctor if you should use mouthwash.
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