Find out how diabetes can lead to tooth loss and other oral health issues if not managed properly.
Anyone with diabetes is familiar with the short-term side effects, but if not managed correctly, the condition can have certain long-term impacts as well. One of those issues is periodontal disease, which is a severe form of gum disease. In fact, of the approximately 23 million people in the United States diagnosed with diabetes, about 22 percent have periodontal disease, also known as periodontitis. Since periodontal disease is the leading cause of tooth loss for adults, the connection between diabetes and tooth loss is clear.
Tooth loss affects more people than you might expect. About 120 million adults in the United States are missing at least one tooth, and 36 million have no teeth at all.
The good news, though, is that periodontal disease and tooth loss are both very preventable.
What is Periodontal Disease?
Periodontal disease is an infection of the gums that affects almost half of American adults. In its mildest form, it's known as gingivitis and is characterized by red, swollen gums that bleed easily.
Over time, gingivitis can progress to periodontitis, which means the gums start to pull away from the teeth, forming pockets that can become infected. If left untreated, the gum tissue and bone in the jaw can deteriorate to the point that teeth become loose and fall out.
How Does Diabetes Lead to Periodontal Disease?
Unmanaged high blood sugar can make it difficult for people with diabetes to fight infections anywhere in the body, including the mouth. Additionally, high glucose levels can lead to an increase in bacteria in the saliva. If you don't practice good dental hygiene, these bacteria can mix with food and other debris in your mouth to form plaque.
Plaque itself is fairly easy to remove, but when it builds up it can harden into tartar that lodges in the gum line, causing infections and red, swollen gums—early signs of gum disease. If left untreated, these symptoms turn into periodontitis and more severe gum problems and infections.
When diabetes makes it more difficult to fight these infections, periodontitis worsens, leading to tooth loss and occasionally to more serious health issues including heart disease and stroke.
How to Prevent Periodontal Disease and Tooth Loss
Anyone can develop periodontal disease, and good oral hygiene practices are the first line of defense for preventing gum disease. For people with diabetes, maintaining healthy blood sugar levels is essential in protecting themselves from all forms of periodontal disease and other oral health issues.
Here are a few ways to keep your mouth clean and avoid complications.
- Brush at least twice a day for two minutes with a fluoride toothpaste
- Floss daily
- Replace your toothbrush every three to four months, or sooner if the edges are frayed
- Use a soft-bristled toothbrush
- See your dentist regularly for professional dental cleanings and checkups
- Use antibacterial mouthwash or rinse
- Avoid alcohol and tobacco
Tell your dentist if you have diabetes, continue to monitor your blood sugar levels, and take your diabetes medication as instructed. If you notice any signs of gum disease such as red, swollen, and tender gums, call your dentist right away. Diabetes and tooth loss may be connected, but with proper care, you can keep your teeth and gums clean and healthy.
by Joelle Klein
Everyday Health, Is Diabetes Causing Tooth Loss?
American Dental Association, Diabetes and Your Smile
American Diabetes Association, Diabetes and Oral Health
Mayo Clinic, Diabetes and Dental Care: Guide to a Healthy Mouth
American College of Prosthodontics, Facts and Figures
American College of Periodontology, Types of Gum Disease
American Academy of Periodontology, CDC: Half of American Adults Have Periodontal Disease