Good oral care is important for diabetics

It’s important to keep teeth and gums healthy if you are a person living with diabetes. Diabetes affects oral health – and oral health affects diabetes!

According to the National Diabetes Prevention Program almost 26 million Americans have diabetes – 8.3 percent of the U.S. population. It’s estimated that 79 million adults have pre-diabetes, a condition where blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be called diabetes.

Diabetes can affect every part of the body, including our mouth. In fact, sometimes it is our dentist who first notices the signs of diabetes that affect the teeth and gums, and refers a person to a health care provider for testing.

How does a dentist know? Oral symptoms of diabetes may include red and swollen gums, those that bleed easily or pull away from the teeth, persistent bad breath, sometimes with a fruity, acetone-type odor, abscesses (pus around the teeth), dry mouth, fungal infection (creamy or yellow spots) on the gums that may bleed, delayed healing in the mouth and increased cavities.

While diabetes affects our oral health, the opposite is also true: oral health affects diabetes. Research suggests that mouth infections make it harder for people with diabetes to control their blood sugar. For example, a two-year study showed six times the increased risk of worsening blood sugar control in people with Type 2 diabetes who had severe gum disease, compared with that in people with Type 2 diabetes who did not have gum disease.

If blood sugar levels are poorly controlled diabetics are more likely to develop gum disease and lose more teeth than non-diabetics. If a diabetic’s oral health is poor, they are more likely to have problems keeping blood sugar levels at a healthy level.

The good news is that, with a little effort diabetics can keep gums and teeth healthy. Here’s what Michigan State University Extension recommends:

  • Keep blood sugar as close to normal as possible. That means taking medication or insulin, if it prescribed. It also means keeping the amount of consumed carbs in check. Need support doing this? Then think about taking one of MSU Extension’s series of classes, such as Dining with Diabetes or Diabetes PATH (Personal Action Towards Health).
  • Have a dental check-up and teeth cleanings about every six months, or as often as your health-care professional recommends.
  • Brush your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste after each meal and snack for at least two minutes. Try one of the anti-gingivitis or anti-bacterial toothpastes accepted by the American Dental Association.
  • Use dental floss at least once a day.
  • Make sure your dentist and dental hygienist know you have diabetes.

For more information on diabetes and other chronic conditions, as well as other issues of interest to families visit www.msue.msu.edu.

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