Research shows that your oral health is linked to numerous systemic diseases, including diabetes. There are many health complications of poorly managed diabetes, such as nerve damage, eye problems, kidney disease, heart attack, and stroke. Another common but less discussed complication of diabetes is gum disease, also known as periodontal disease.
Periodontal disease is an infection of the tissues and bone surrounding the teeth and is the most common dental problem experienced by people with diabetes. Left untreated, periodontal disease can cause mouth infection and pain, tooth loss, and it can even worsen your diabetes.
Let’s take a closer look at the relationship between periodontal disease and diabetes.
How is Periodontal Disease Linked to Diabetes?
The relationship between periodontal disease and diabetes is a two-way street. If you have diabetes, you’re nearly three times more likely to develop periodontal disease and if you have periodontal disease, it’s harder to control your diabetes. People with diabetes have elevated levels of glucose in their blood and in their saliva, which promotes the growth of harmful bacteria that cause periodontal disease.
Periodontal disease starts as a mild inflammation of the gums called gingivitis. The good news is that gingivitis is reversible, with the help of your dentist. To treat gingivitis, you’ll likely need a professional dental cleaning and good oral hygiene habits at home. You may have gingivitis if you notice any of these symptoms:
Swollen, tender gums
Gums that bleed when you brush or floss
If left untreated, gingivitis can progress to periodontal disease, which is irreversible and causes severe oral complications. Be aware of these signs of periodontal disease:
Teeth that appear to shift
Pus coming from your gums
Bad breath that doesn’t go away with brushing
Red, swollen gums
Gums that bleed easily
Sensitive or painful teeth
If you notice any signs of gingivitis or periodontal disease, schedule a visit with your dentist as soon as possible. Because of slow wound healing and compromised immunity seen in people with poorly controlled diabetes, a mild case of periodontal disease can become severe if it’s not treated quickly and effectively.
How is Periodontal Disease Treated?
Periodontal disease can be treated by your dentist but if your case is severe, you may be referred to a periodontist — a dentist who specializes in treating gum disease. Your dentist may also want to consult with your medical doctor or endocrinologist to formulate a treatment plan that is best for your oral and overall health needs.
After an initial oral exam and x-rays, your dentist will talk to you about the risks and benefits of different types of treatment. Let’s take a look at some of the treatment options for periodontal disease.
Scaling and Root Planing
Scaling and root planing (SRP) is a non-surgical treatment that includes the removal of plaque and tartar below the gumline, reaching deeper than a regular dental cleaning. Sometimes, after SRP, localized antibiotics are placed directly on the gums to kill bacteria and promote healing.
Your dentist may also recommend systemic antibiotics if the infection cannot be treated locally. SRP can be completed in one or multiple visits and your gums may be sore afterward, requiring mild over-the-counter pain medications.
If your periodontal disease is severe, your dentist may recommend more extensive surgical treatment. During a procedure called flap surgery, your gums are cut away from your teeth or “flapped” in order to clean the root services of your teeth. Your gum tissue is then stitched back in place.
Your dentist may also choose to place bone or tissue grafts during the flap surgery. Pain medications and antibiotics are usually given after gum surgery.
Unfortunately, untreated periodontal disease can cause the loss of some or all of your teeth. That’s why early treatment in combination with diabetes management is important in maintaining your oral and overall health.
Can I Treat Periodontal Disease at Home?
Treatment of periodontal disease requires the professional expertise of your dentist. However, good oral hygiene habits can help maintain optimal oral health between dental visits.
Here are some tips for keeping your mouth healthy:
Brush and floss at least twice a day
Brush with a soft-bristled or electric toothbrush
Do not smoke or chew tobacco
Replace your toothbrush every 3 months
Use an antiseptic mouthwash
Limit sugary foods and drinks
Eat a well-balanced, healthy diet
If you're a person living with diabetes, you have a higher risk of developing periodontal disease. On the other hand, having periodontal disease can make your diabetes more difficult to control. For the benefit of both your oral and overall health, it’s important that you manage your diabetes, visit your dentist at least twice a year, seek treatment at the first signs of periodontal disease, and practice good oral hygiene.
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