Often touted as the fifth ailment of diabetes after diseases of the heart, nerves, kidneys, and eyes, gum disease is a serious concern for those who suffer with diabetes. Also known as gingivitis, gum disease is, essentially, caused by plaque buildup. This buildup results in inflammation of the gums and can lead to an array of complications for even the healthiest of individuals.
Why Are Diabetics at Risk?
It should be noted that just because diabetics are at more of a risk of developing gum disease, this does not translate to diabetics having more bacteria in their mouths than those without diabetes. Those with and without diabetes are susceptible to developing an excess amount of bacteria in their mouths; the difference, however, is that diabetics have a higher inflammatory response to the bacteria. This is why those with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing gum disease.
When left untreated, gingivitis can become periodontitis. This is a more advanced stage of gum disease and is not reversible unlike gingivitis. Signs that you are developing or have gum disease include swollen, bleeding, and/or red gums, sensitive or loose teeth, and halitosis (chronic bad breath). It is important to visit your dentist as soon as possible if you develop any of these symptoms as periodontal disease can make it difficult to control blood sugar levels.
Avoiding Gum Disease: 5 Tips
Prevention is the best medicine, especially when it comes to gum disease. In order to ensure that you are giving your gums the best care, follow these five tips to ward off gum disease:
Avoid Certain Drinks
Acidic drinks can erode tooth enamel. This leads to tooth decay. Avoid energy drinks, soda, or water with lemon or lime. If you do need to adjust your sugar levels with a sugary drink, stick to non-acidic beverages like chocolate milk, sweet tea, or a fruit smoothie. Drink from a straw when you can to further protect your teeth and gums.
Flossing is important for anyone with teeth. For diabetics, it is a crucial part in gum disease prevention. By flossing daily between each tooth, you are removing excess plaque that could eventually damage your gums. Be gentle with your flossing in order to avoid bleeding gums.
Many people do not brush their teeth for long. However, it is important to brush your teeth and your gum line for two minutes twice per day; this is to ensure that plaque is sufficiently removed. Use a soft-bristle toothbrush and use gentle yet thorough strokes. Additionally, do not neglect your tongue. Be sure to brush your tongue for a few seconds as well to remove any additional bacteria. A tongue scraper can also be used in place of a brush.
Get Regular Check-Ups
If you have diabetes, you are likely very conscious of making regular doctor appointments. Practice this same mindset when visiting your dentist. Do not go longer than one year without visiting your dentist. Two times per year is recommended. By keeping up with regular check-ups, your dentist will be able to catch any minor oral issues before they become major dental concerns.
Avoid Dry Mouth
Because of certain medications or elevated blood glucose, many diabetics suffer from dry mouth. Saliva acts as a “cleanser” for the mouth. Without proper saliva production, you are more susceptible to tooth decay and other oral problems. To stimulate saliva production, chew sugar-free gum, suck on sugar-free mints, or use a mouth gel designed to help ward off dry mouth. If none of these options work, ask your dentist for additional dry mouth treatment options.
Having diabetes does not mean that you will develop gum disease. Further, if you are diagnosed with gingivitis, rest assured knowing that this first stage of gum disease is reversible. If you are diagnosed with a more advanced stage of gum disease, while it is not reversible, it can be managed with proper treatment and a proper daily oral hygiene routine.
If you have diabetes and are concerned about your increased risk of developing gum disease, follow the five tips above and speak with your dentist about additional preventative measures you can take to ensure that your teeth and gums remain healthy and disease-free.