25.8 million children and adults in the United States – 8.3% of the population – have diabetes. And not too far behind those 25.8 million are the estimated 79 million Americans with prediabetes. What’s worse, the prevalence of the disease is on the rise, with an estimated 552 million to be diagnosed by 2030. Its progress has become so staggering, the International Diabetes Foundation has termed Diabetes as “The Global Burden.” Diabetes is a serious illness, and its complications are manifold. Most know of its impact on circulation, visual acuity, and heart and kidney function. Many aren’t aware, however, of its deleterious effect on gum tissue. If you’re prediabetic, have diabetes or have a loved one with the disease, you’ll want to learn more about how to ward off this commonly unknown side effect of the disease.
Diabetes is a disease with tentacles. It touches and degrades so many aspects of a person’s physical health, it becomes difficult to be mindful of all its complications without proper vigilance. Yet, vigilance is precisely what is needed, particularly with regard to its role in a healthy mouth, because having diabetes can not only lead oral disease, but the presence of oral disease can also aggravate diabetes. When it comes to diabetes and the mouth, it is unfortunately, as the scientific community calls it, a “two way street.”
What are some of the Oral Health complications of Diabetes?
- Tooth Decay: Occasionally, an observant dentist who notices a high instance of cavities in an otherwise healthy mouth is the first to suggest a patient be tested for diabetes. The reason for this is that uncontrolled diabetes results in higher levels of salivary glucose. When coupled with a diabetic’s diminished salivary production, the mouth tends to bathe in an environment ripe for tooth decay, and these parallels are markers that get a dentists’ attention. If you’re already diabetic, you’ll want to keep your dentist informed of your disease and its current state so they can always be on the lookout for related problems in your mouth.
- Gingivitis and Periodontal Disease: Because diabetes lowers the body’s ability to fight infection, people with the disease are more likely to encounter bouts with gingivitis and periodontitis. Both gingivitis and periodontitis are bacterial gum infections, with gingivitis being the less advanced version of the two. Having either condition, though, requires diligent care because of a diabetic’s inability to fight these infections properly. Diabetics have the added burden of having to contend rising sugar levels caused by the body’s reaction to stress and infection. The resulting “see-saw” effect can be quite difficult to manage, to say the least. If nothing else sways you to consider your oral health as it relates to diabetes, this single interrelated factor alone should convince you this is a battle you need to fight from an offensive, rather than a defensive position.
- Fungal Infections: Also related to the body’s inability to fight infection, diabetics are likely to experience a greater incidence of oral fungal infections. Thrush, which can be common in infancy as a baby develops their immune system is often seen in diabetic patients as well.
- Loss of Taste: In the far reaching realm of diabetes complications, losing your ability to taste certainly ranks among the more unpopular. Here, nerve damage is the culprit, as untreated or uncontrolled diabetes can cut off nerve transmissions to the brain from the taste buds, thus impairing or completely removing one’s ability to taste. Not good.
Diabetes is a serious illness, and thankfully, it is one that can be prevented. If you already have the disease, it can also be controlled by following the advice of your doctor and your dentist. Be sure to make all of your health care team members aware of your disease so you can best stay on top of it. There is nothing worse than the awareness that you could have saved yourself from risky complications through better self-care. And there is nothing better than knowing that you did save yourself from additional illness by doing the right thing. So be proactive, and be healthy!
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