There are various different factors that can have an impact on your oral health. Some of these factors are within your control, such as your oral hygiene habits. Other factors, such as your medical history, are not as easy to control. However, it is important to know that certain medical conditions can impact your oral health.
One common medical condition that has been shown to have a direct effect on oral health is diabetes. There are two different forms of diabetes, both of which can result in high blood sugar. Type 1 diabetes is when the body does not produce enough insulin and type 2 is when the body no longer responds to insulin. Insulin is a hormone used by the body to turn sugar into energy. When the body is lacking insulin or cannot respond to insulin, the excess sugar gets trapped in the blood.
Unfortunately, high blood sugar levels can cause a range of health problems. In addition to affecting various other parts of the body, high blood sugar also affects the oral cavity. In cases where diabetes is not managed properly, high blood sugar levels can even increase the risk of tooth loss and other oral health problems, such as:
Gum disease is quite common in people with diabetes due to the fact that the bacteria responsible for gum disease feed off of sugars. Feeding on sugars allows bacteria populations to increase, which can cause gum inflammation when these bacteria accumulate along the gum line. Gum disease can cause red, swollen, or tender gums in the early stages, but can progress to causing jawbone deterioration. It can also break down the connective tissue responsible for keeping the tooth in its socket. When this happens, the tooth can become loose or may need to be extracted.
Xerostomia is the formal term for dry mouth. Dry mouth is characterized by a lack of adequate saliva production which leaves the mouth feeling dry. Although diabetes is one factor that causes dry mouth, it can also be caused or worsened by taking certain medications. In addition to being uncomfortable, dry mouth also increases the risk of tooth decay and gum disease. This is because saliva is necessary to regulate bacterial populations and maintain the mouth’s pH. Without enough saliva, the mouth will become acidic and more bacteria will be able to survive.
The high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes also impact how the immune system functions. Specifically, high blood sugar decreases the efficiency of the immune system, which increases the risk of developing infections like oral thrush. Oral thrush is a white yeast fungus that grows on the tongue and on the insides of the cheeks. Since yeast feeds off of sugars, it is often seen in people who have high blood sugar. Oral thrush is also commonly seen in individuals who have dentures.
Healing also takes longer for people with diabetes due to the fact that high blood sugar prevents nutrients and oxygen from energizing the cells, decreases immune system function, and increases inflammation within the cells. In simple terms, this means that it can be harder to heal from oral infections like gum disease or oral thrush. It can also take longer to heal after dental procedures like extractions or dental implants.
Although this last one technically won’t increase the risk of tooth loss, it is still an oral problem that diabetes can cause. Some people with high blood sugar will have a permanent sweet taste in the mouth, which can distort their ability to taste other flavors. Other people with high blood sugar may not be able to taste sweetness in foods at all. In both cases, your diet may change because of these changes in taste.
Dr. Roman Fedorciw has been in private practice in Cromwell since 1991. He is a member of the Academy of General Dentistry, American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry and the American Dental Association. He is also a member of the Connecticut Dental Association and Middlesex County Dental Association. Dr. Fedorciw has been acknowledged by his peers as one of the “Top Dentists” in Hartford County by Hartford Magazine and in the state of Connecticut by Connecticut Magazine.