If you are one of the 1.7 million Australians with diabetes, you may be aware that this disease can complicate a host of problems with your eyes, ear blood vessels, nerves, kidneys, and heart.
What you may not know is people with diabetes who have irregular blood glucose levels also have a higher risk of tooth problems and gum disease than people without diabetes. This is due to the fact that they have a lowered resistance to infection and may not heal as easily.
The most common oral health problems which can affect people with diabetes are:
- periodontal (gum) disease
- lichen planus (an inflammatory, autoimmune skin condition)
- mouth ulcers
- taste insensitivities
- gum abscesses
- tooth decay
- fungal infections
- a dry, burning mouth (low saliva levels)
Diet and tooth decay
Teeth are covered with plaque, a soft, sticky film that builds up on your teeth and contains millions of tiny bacteria. The bacteria in plaque cause tooth decay and gum disease if not removed regularly through brushing and flossing. Repeated attacks can cause the enamel to break down and can eventually result in cavities. It’s important for people with diabetes to control their high glucose levels in saliva as this can help bacteria and plaque thrive. Bigger problems arise, however, if plaque stays on your teeth and hardens into tartar. Tartar, also known as calculus forms, above and below the gum line. Tartar makes cleaning your teeth more difficult. It’s rough and porous in texture and if not treated properly can create conditions that lead to chronic inflammation and infection in the mouth.
Diabetes lowers your resistance to infection and can slow the healing process. To have it removed properly you best make an appointment with your dentist as tartar can only be removed using specific tools which are found in the dentist’s office.
The relationship between diet and tooth decay is significant, and what you eat can have a direct impact on the health of your teeth. Here’s how diet influences tooth decay:
Sugar and Cavities: Consuming foods and beverages high in sugar, especially sugary snacks and drinks, can contribute to the formation of cavities. Bacteria in the mouth feed on sugar and produce acid, which erodes tooth enamel, leading to decay.
Acidic Foods and Erosion: Acidic foods and drinks, such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, and sodas, can erode tooth enamel over time. Enamel erosion weakens the protective outer layer of the teeth, making them more susceptible to decay.
Calcium-Rich Foods for Strength: Foods rich in calcium, such as dairy products, leafy greens, and nuts, contribute to the strength and health of teeth. Calcium is a crucial mineral for maintaining the structure of teeth and preventing decay.
Crunchy Fruits and Vegetables for Cleaning: Crunchy fruits and vegetables like apples, carrots, and celery have a natural cleaning action on teeth. Chewing these foods stimulates saliva production, which helps neutralize acids and cleans the teeth.
Water as a Neutralizer: Drinking water, especially after consuming acidic or sugary foods, helps rinse away debris and neutralize acids in the mouth. Staying hydrated is essential for overall oral health.
Limiting Snacking: Frequent snacking, especially on sugary or acidic foods, can create an environment conducive to tooth decay. Limiting snacks and opting for healthier choices can reduce the risk of dental issues.
Balanced Diet for Overall Health: A well-balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrients is not only beneficial for overall health but also supports dental health. Nutrients like vitamin D, phosphorus, and antioxidants contribute to strong teeth and gums.
Regular Dental Check-ups: While diet plays a crucial role, regular dental check-ups are essential for maintaining oral health. Professional cleanings and examinations help detect and address early signs of decay or other dental issues.
What you can do
- Cut down on sugar and starches from your diet and eat healthier foods
- Make sure you keep track of blood sugar levels
- Make sure you brush at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and clean once a day with floss so that you get between your teeth to remove plaque
- Treat any dental infections immediately
- Drink plenty of water and if possible chew a sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva production and avoid having a dry mouth
- Quit smoking
Make sure you visit your dentist for advice about proper home care, early intervention and preventative maintenance.
Diabetics who combine good dental care with insulin control typically have a better chance of avoiding gum disease. As people with diabetes have a higher risk of tooth and gum problems it is important to look after your oral health and control your blood glucose levels to prevent gum disease. To maintain good oral health and prevent tooth decay, here are some proactive steps you can take:
- Use a Tongue Scraper: Include tongue scraping as part of your oral hygiene routine. This helps remove bacteria and debris from the tongue, contributing to fresher breath and a cleaner mouth.
- Oil Pulling: Consider incorporating oil pulling into your routine. Swishing a tablespoon of coconut oil in your mouth for about 15-20 minutes may help reduce bacteria and promote gum health.
- Herbal Mouthwash: Explore natural or herbal mouthwash options that do not contain alcohol. Some herbal mouthwashes may have antibacterial properties and can be gentler on your gums.
- Limit Acidic Drinks: Along with acidic foods, be mindful of acidic beverages like citrus juices and certain sodas. Minimize their intake to reduce the risk of enamel erosion.
- Chew Xylitol Gum: Xylitol is a sugar substitute that may help prevent tooth decay. Chewing gum sweetened with xylitol can stimulate saliva production and reduce the acidity in your mouth.
- Avoid Teeth Grinding: If you grind your teeth, especially at night, consider using a mouthguard. Teeth grinding (bruxism) can lead to enamel wear and increased susceptibility to decay.
- Stay Informed About Medications: Some medications can have side effects that impact oral health. Be aware of any potential effects on your teeth and gums and discuss them with your healthcare provider or dentist.
- Maintain Proper Hydration: Dry mouth can contribute to tooth decay. Ensure you stay well-hydrated throughout the day, as saliva helps neutralize acids and protect your teeth.
- Mindful Eating Habits: Avoid using your teeth as tools for opening packages or cracking nuts. Mindful eating habits can prevent accidental damage to your teeth.
- Environmental Considerations: If you live in an area with fluoridated water, take advantage of this natural source of fluoride. If your water supply lacks fluoride, consider fluoride supplements as recommended by your dentist.
Please book a time to visit our friendly team at Habberfield Dental Practice today for further advice about how to keep your teeth and gums healthy.