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diabetes and oral health

One in 10 Americans have diabetes — that’s more than 30 million people. And another 84 million adults in the United States are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes is one of the leading causes of disability and death in the United States. Unless it is well-managed, diabetes can cause blindness, kidney disease, nerve damage and other health problems including gum disease and tooth loss. And oral health issues can also raise your risk of developing diabetes, and make it more difficult to control the disease.

November is American Diabetes Month, a time to raise awareness about diabetes and encourage people to make healthy changes that can lower their risk of diabetes or help them better control the disease. Positive lifestyle changes include eating well, exercising regularly, and good oral health care.

Diabetes and Your Teeth

People with diabetes have an increased risk of developing oral health problems, such as gingivitis (early stage gum disease) and periodontitis (serious gum disease). This is because diabetes can cause blood vessels to thicken, reducing their ability to remove waste products and deliver nourishment and oxygen to body tissues, including the gums.

The good news is that if your blood glucose levels are well- controlled, your risk of serious oral health complications is similar to those of people without diabetes. And good oral health can also help you manage your diabetes. Serious gum disease may make it more difficult to manage blood glucose levels and can speed the progression of diabetes. It’s important for you to maintain your oral health with careful at-home hygiene routine and regular dental checkups and cleanings.

And, according to the American Diabetes Association, research has also suggested that having gum disease may result in a higher chance of developing diabetes. That’s because serious gum disease may have the ability to affect glucose levels in the blood.

Avoiding Diabetic Dental Problems

Bacterial plaque is the primary cause of 90% of all dental disease. Bacteria secrete acidic waste products. This creates an acidic environment in your mouth that weakens teeth and leads to decay. Over time, without proper oral hygiene and dental care, the plaque clinging to teeth works its way under the gums, resulting in oral infections.

Your best defense is consistent removal of the bacterial plaque. If its left alone for about 48 hours, it begins to harden – this is called tartar – and is extremely difficult to remove by simple brushing and flossing. You need professional cleanings to remove tartar. Even if you do brush regularly, it’s easy to miss tartar that can be lurking between your teeth, in tiny chips and cracks, or just under the gum line.

Regular brushing and flossing may be enough to keep these harmful bacteria under control. In the absence of good oral hygiene, however, a sticky substance called plaque starts to build up on the surfaces of your teeth—and that’s where harmful bacteria can flourish. Put plaque bacteria together with a lowered resistance to bacterial infection, and you’ve got a recipe for a more aggressive gum disease than normal.

Gingivitis, if left untreated, can progress to a more serious form of gum disease called periodontitis. This is a bacterial infection that can attack not only the gums, but also the bone that supports the teeth; the loss of supporting bone can eventually lead to tooth loss. People with diabetes have a significantly higher rate of tooth loss than the general population.

Other oral problems associated to diabetes include thrush, an infection caused by fungus that grows in the mouth. Diabetes can also cause dry mouth. Salvia is the mouth’s major defense against tooth decay, and also helps to control the bacteria and other microorganisms that live in your mouth. Too little salvia can cause accelerated tooth decay, gum disease, oral sores and pain, bad breath and even interfere with your ability to taste.

Talking To Your Dentist About Diabetes

Let your dentist and dental hygienist know that you have diabetes, and keep them up-to-date on your medical status and medications. Your dentist will likely want to see you every six months for checkups and cleanings, perhaps more if you show signs of having an oral infection.

You can’t afford to delay getting oral healthcare if you have diabetes. If you’ve been avoiding seeing the dentist or dental hygienist as often as you should due to costs, consider joining a dental savings plan.

Dental savings plans are an affordable alternative to dental insurance, providing plan members with discounts on most dental services. Most of plans you’ll find on dentalplans.com offer savings of 10%-60% at the dentist.

Dental savings plan members pay a low annual membership fee for access to an extensive network of participating dentists and dental specialists that provide discounts on dental care at the time of service. Since they are not dental insurance, dental savings plans do not have co-payments, deductibles, paperwork hassles or annual spending limits.

Find out more about dental savings plans at dentalplans.com.

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