The Connection Between Diabetes and Periodontal Disease

Dental hygienist with patient. Thinkstock Images/ GettyImages

Periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, is one of the leading causes of tooth loss among adults and can result from poor diabetes control. In gum disease, your gums, the deeper supporting tissue, and potentially the bone surrounding teeth become infected and inflamed. It has also been linked to heart disease and strokes.

How Periodontal Disease Develops

Gum disease starts with a plaque on the teeth, a sticky white substance that coats teeth. It's formed when bacteria in the mouth mixes with saliva and residues from starchy foods and sugar in your diet.

If plaque isn't properly removed from teeth by brushing and flossing, it accumulates and hardens underneath the gum line into tartar.

Once tartar builds up, it's much more difficult to remove than a plaque and usually requires professional removal by a dentist. Over time, it can lead to inflamed gums or gingivitis

There are two major stages of periodontal disease, gingivitis, and periodontitis. People with diabetes tend to develop gum disease more frequently than others. However, if it is diagnosed in the early stage (gingivitis), it can be treated and reversed. If you don't get treatment for periodontal disease, it might progress to a more serious and advanced stage (periodontitis), which includes bone loss and is irreversible.

Factors That Link Diabetes to Periodontal Disease

Studies show that people with insufficient blood sugar control seem to develop gum disease more frequently and more severely than people who have good management over their diabetes.

  • Diabetes slows circulation, which can also make the gum tissues more susceptible to infections.
  • Diabetes reduces the body’s resistance to infection, which increases the probability of the gums becoming infected.
  • High glucose levels in saliva promote the growth of bacteria that cause gum disease.
  • People with diabetes who smoke are far more likely to develop gum disease than people who smoke and do not have diabetes.
  • Poor oral hygiene is a major factor in gum disease for everyone, but it is even more so for a person with diabetes.

Signs and Symptoms

As periodontal disease develops and progresses, there are many noticeable signs and symptoms, which may include:

  • Red and swollen gums
  • Gums that tend to bleed easily
  • Gums separating from the teeth
  • Loose teeth
  • Frequent bad breath
  • Change in the way your teeth fit together
  • Change in the way partials or dentures fit

How to Prevent Gum Disease

Several lifestyle factors can lower your risk of having periodontal disease. When you have diabetes, one of the number one tips is to maintain good control over your blood sugar levels. Here are some other helpful tips to prevent gum disease:

  • Do not smoke. Smoking less than half a pack of cigarettes a day makes you three times as likely to get periodontal disease.
  • Maintain good oral hygiene and regular dental check-ups. You should brush and floss your teeth regularly (preferably after eating). Regular dental cleanings will help to remove build up of tartar and treat advanced gum disease.  
  • Eat a healthy and well-balanced diet. Here are some meal planning tips for diabetics.

Be sure to tell your dentist and hygienist that you have diabetes so that she can detect any signs of early gum disease.

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