Diabetes is associated with high blood sugar levels. It is a common condition, affecting about 41.5 million people worldwide, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the number of diabetics increased from 10.8 crore in 1980 to 42.2 crore in 2014. Additionally, between 2000 and 2019, the mortality rate among diabetes patients rose to 3%, as per the WHO.
Interestingly, uncontrolled diabetes can affect different parts of the body, including your heart, feet, nerves and blood vessels. It can even take a toll on your oral health. In this article, we will look at how high blood sugar affects your mouth and the kind of symptoms that you can experience. Dr Sonali Kagne, Deputy Consultant, Department of Endocrinology, Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital, Mumbai, helps us with the answers.
Also Read: Not A Diabetic But Experiencing Low Blood Sugar? Here Are The Possible Reasons
Can Diabetes Cause Oral Problems?
Diabetes is a chronic disease that can affect the entire body including the oral cavity. Dr Kagne says, “Uncontrolled diabetes weakens White Blood Cells (WBCs), which are the body’s main defence against bacterial infections that can occur in the mouth. Another complication of diabetes is that it causes blood vessels to thicken. This slows the flow of nutrients to and waste products from body tissues, including the mouth. With this combination of events, the body loses its ability to fight infections thus predisposing people with diabetes to various oral health issues.”
Symptoms Of Diabetes In Your Mouth
Some of the common diabetes symptoms that can arise in your mouth include:
Dr Kagne says, “Uncontrolled diabetes can reduce saliva (spit) flow, resulting in dry mouth. Dry mouth can further lead to soreness, ulcers, infections and tooth decay.”
Gum inflammation (gingivitis) and periodontitis
As discussed, diabetes can thicken the blood vessels, which make it difficult for the WBCs to pass through and reach where they are needed to fight off the germs. This is when germs like bacteria, viruses, and fungi thrive and cause infections in the body, including the mouth. According to Dr Kagne, periodontal disease is a bacterial infection, which is why people with uncontrolled diabetes might experience more frequent and more severe gum disease.
Poor healing of oral tissues
Dr Kagne says, “People with uncontrolled diabetes do not heal quickly after oral surgery or other dental procedures because blood flow to the treatment site can be compromised.”
Oral thrush, also called oral candidiasis, is a condition, wherein the fungus Candida albicans accumulates on the lining of the mouth. People with diabetes who frequently take antibiotics to fight various infections are especially prone to developing this type of fungal infection in the mouth and on the tongue. The fungus thrives on the high glucose levels in the saliva of people with uncontrolled diabetes, says Dr Kagne. This can lead to a burning mouth and/or tongue.
The doctor says, “People with diabetes who smoke are at an even higher risk, up to 20 times more likely than non-smokers to develop thrush and periodontal disease. Smoking also seems to impair blood flow to the gums, which might affect wound healing in this tissue area.”
“There may be a bidirectional association between periodontal disease and diabetes. Specifically, poorly controlled diabetes may be a risk factor for increased severity of periodontitis and poor response to periodontal treatment. In addition, among patients with diabetes, treatment of periodontal disease may slightly improve glycemic control,” she adds.
Also Read: Uncontrolled Diabetes Can Present With Flu-Like Symptoms, Experts Explain The Cause Behind It
How To Treat And Manage Oral Problems
People with diabetes should take necessary measures to avoid oral complications. Dr Kagne advises to follow good oral hygiene practices, pay special attention to any changes in one’s oral health, and to call one’s dentist immediately if such changes occur. Here are some tips to reduce your risk:
- Keep your blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible
- If any oral procedure or oral surgery is planned, consult your doctor and seek advice
- Bring your dentist a list of all the names and dosages of medicines you are taking
- Postpone non-emergency dental procedures if your blood sugar level is high
- Follow your dentist’s post-treatment instructions closely, as healing may take longer in diabetics
Oral Hygiene Tips For People With Diabetes
If you have diabetes, Dr Kagne recommends following these tips to maintain oral hygiene:
- Brush your teeth after every meal with a soft-bristled toothbrush
- Use dental floss at least once a day
- If you wear dentures, clean them daily
- If you smoke, quit smoking
- Get your dental check up done by your dentist at least twice a year
Living with diabetes is not easy, but manageable. It requires a lot of attention on your diet and your physical activity levels. In addition, one must watch out for the different symptoms that the condition can cause. While frequent thirst and urination, along with unexplained weight changes are some of the common symptoms of diabetes, there are other bodily signals that you must take into account.