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Diabetes and periodontal disease

Bruce A. Spigner, DDS, is a general dentist specializing in restorative and hospital dentistry. He is on staff at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix and can be reached at (602) 253-0994.

Question: I have diabetes and have heard that my blood sugar can be affected by the health of my mouth. Is that true?

Answer: Yes, it is true that your oral health can impact your blood sugar levels. Ten years of research have confirmed that individuals with diabetes are three to four times more likely to develop periodontal disease, commonly known as gum disease.

Periodontal disease is a chronic bacterial infection of the gums, ligaments and bone that support your teeth and hold them in the jaw. It is generally a painless condition; therefore, most individuals do not know they have gum disease until it’s too late. While not always present in the early stages, common signs include:

  • Red and swollen gums that may bleed during brushing or flossing;
  • Gums that have pulled away from teeth exposing the roots;
  • Milky white or yellowish plaque deposits on the teeth or pus between the teeth;
  • Bad breath; and
  • A loose tooth or teeth.

As the body works around the clock to fight the infection, blood sugar levels can rise, ultimately affecting other organs in the body. In addition, elevated or poorly controlled blood sugar levels can affect the severity of gum disease, making routine dental care increasingly important for those with diabetes.

Treating periodontal disease typically includes:

  • A complete oral exam;
  • X-rays to evaluate possible bone loss and dental decay;
  • Cleaning the teeth, treating decay and removing bacteria;
  • Antibiotics to stop infection;
  • Proper home care techniques to maintain a clean, healthy mouth; and
  • Periodic follow-up exams to ensure good oral health.

Following these simple steps can help you achieve optimal oral health and assist in maintaining stable healthy blood sugar levels. Even if you aren’t experiencing any of the described symptoms, periodontal disease may still be present and active. Individuals who have been diagnosed with diabetes are encouraged to undergo a complete dental checkup as soon as possible.

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