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Diabetes is a disease that can affect the whole body, including the mouth. Dental care is particularly important for people with diabetes because they face a higher 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 mainly because uncontrolled diabetes damages white blood cells, which are the body’s main defence against bacterial infections that can occur in the mouth. What do brushing and flossing have to do with diabetes? Plenty.

Whether a person has type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes, managing blood sugar levels is essential. The higher one’s blood sugar levels is, the higher their risk of a myriad of tooth conditions.

People with diabetes are at risk of mouth infections, especially gum disease. Gum disease can damage the gums and bones that hold the teeth in place and may lead to painful chewing problems. People with severe gum disease lose their teeth. Gum disease may also make it hard to control a person’s blood sugar levels.

A person’s mouth naturally contains many types of bacteria. When starches and sugars in food and beverages interact with these bacteria, a sticky film known as plaque forms on the teeth. The acids in plaque attack the hard, outer surface of the teeth (enamel).

This can lead to cavities. The higher your blood sugar level, the greater the supply of sugars and starches and the more acid wearing away at the teeth.

Diabetes reduces a person’s ability to fight bacteria. If a person does not remove plaque with regular brushing and flossing, it will harden under their teeth under the gum line into a substance called tartar (calculus). Thus, the longer plaque and tartar remain on a person’s teeth, the more they irritate the gingiva – the part of your gum around the base of your teeth. In time, the gums become swollen and bleed easily. This is called gingivitis.

Left untreated, gingivitis can lead to a more serious infection called periodontitis, which destroys the soft tissue and bone that support a person’s teeth. Eventually, periodontitis causes the gums to pull away from the teeth and your teeth to loosen and even fall out.

Periodontitis tends to be more severe among people who have diabetes because diabetes lowers the ability to resist infection and slows healing.

An infection such as periodontitis may also cause one’s blood sugar level to rise, which will in turn make a person’s diabetes more difficult to control. Preventing and treating periodontitis can help improve blood sugar control.

Diabetes may also cause the glucose level in your saliva to increase. Together, these problems may lead to a fungal infection called thrush, which causes painful white patches in your mouth.

Another problem diabetes can cause is dry mouth. Dry mouth happens when one does not have enough saliva.

With these highlighted problems of diabetes, it is important for a person with diabetes to understand that managing diabetes is a lifelong commitment, and that includes proper dental care.

Flossing teeth every day is important to help promote overall health, even for the healthiest people. But people with diabetes should be especially vigilant about flossing as well as brushing their teeth. The high blood sugar that accompanies diabetes can take a toll on teeth and gums in several ways.

Remember that the bacteria in the mouth may cause the build-up of plaque on the teeth, which can lead to tartar. Tartar, in turn, can irritate the gums. The bacteria in plaque can also lead to gingivitis.

Untreated gingivitis can become periodontitis, a serious infection of the gums and the bones that surround your teeth. Periodontitis can cause your gums to recede and, in more aanced cases, the teeth to loosen and fall out.

According to the Mayo clinic, studies have shown that people with type 2 diabetes are three times more likely to develop gingivitis than people who don’t have diabetes.

People with diabetes can be more susceptible to infections and they may take longer to heal and poor oral hygiene can make your diabetes even more difficult to control, too. If a person develops an infection due to gum disease, it can affect their insulin needs. It is important for a person to inform their dentist about their diabetes.

To help prevent damage to your teeth and gums, take diabetes and dental care seriously by monitoring your blood sugar level, and follow your doctor’s instructions for keeping your blood sugar level within your target range. The better you control your blood sugar level, the less likely you are to develop gingivitis and other dental problems.

You must floss your teeth at least once a day, schedule regular dental cleaning and make sure your dentist knows you have diabetes.

People with diabetes who smoke are at even a higher risk, up to 20 times more likely than non-smokers 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. If you smoke, ask your doctor about options to help you quit.

Yemurai Machirori is a member of the International Young Leaders in Diabetes.

Source : The Herald