What Is the Connection between Diabetes and Periodontal Disease?

Jennifer Hicks

The connection between diabetes and periodontal disease is a two-way street. Research has shown that people who have diabetes are more likely to develop periodontal disease than non-diabetics. Furthermore, patients who have periodontal disease are more likely to have trouble controlling blood sugar, which exacerbates diabetes.

The stages of periodontal disease.
The stages of periodontal disease.

Diabetes affects the entire body by elevating the amount of glucose or sugar in the blood. This can happen when the body does not produce enough insulin to move blood glucose to cells that need it for fuel or in cases where cells do not respond correctly to insulin. With too much glucose in the blood, the white blood cells that fight bacteria are inhibited, and the patient becomes prone to infection.

Individuals suffering with diabetes are at high risk for developing periodontal disease.
Individuals suffering with diabetes are at high risk for developing periodontal disease.

With this decreased ability to fight infection, the mouth, which naturally houses many types of bacteria, can become a breeding ground for bacterial infections. This can lead to periodontal disease, which includes the gum inflammation called gingivitis and the more serious periodontitis. Gingivitis causes tender, swollen gums, and periodontitis causes gums to recede and allows bacteria to develop in pockets of the gum line.

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With diabetes and periodontal disease so closely linked, diabetics are urged to control blood sure and make dental and oral care a top priority. Maintaining blood sugar as best as possible can prevent worsening of periodontal disease by helping while blood cells do their bacteria-fighting job better. Diabetics should follow their doctors’ orders for what and when to eat as well as how to take medication.

Daily and routine dental care also can help manage the complications of diabetes and periodontal disease. Diabetics should have their teeth and gums cleaned and checked more than once a year or as directed by a dentist. People who have diabetes also should floss and brush every day, taking care to not brush too hard against tender gums, because this can destroy gum tissue. Diabetics who wear dentures should clean them thoroughly every day.

Another key element in the connection between diabetes and periodontal disease is nicotine. Diabetics who smoke are more prone to mouth infections. It has been suggested that smoking might impede blood flow to the gums, which can slow healing of any mouth sores or infections. Thus, quitting smoking is an important key in improving oral health for diabetics.

Diabetes and periodontal disease are so closely linked that diabetics who are scheduling oral surgery should consult both their primary physicians and their oral surgeons before undergoing any procedure. If possible, surgery should be performed when blood sugar levels are optimal. In cases where an emergency procedure is required, however, the immediate problem should be taken care of regardless of blood sugar levels. Afterward, the patient should try to bring high blood sugar under control as best as possible.

Diabetics should have their teeth cleaned by a dentist more than once per year.
Diabetics should have their teeth cleaned by a dentist more than once per year.

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