How Your Dental Healthcare Professional Can Help Manage Diabetes

November is National Diabetes Month, and the main goal is to bring awareness of the diabetes epidemic in the U.S. The number of adults diagnosed with diabetes has doubled in the last twenty years. In the U.S., 34.2 million adults have diabetes, and 1 in 5 of those individuals do not know that they have it.  It is the 7th leading cause of death in the U.S., and the numbers may be underreported. Because millions of us are at risk of having it, we should all immerse ourselves in educational information about the health condition. Of course, we will learn how, if not controlled, diabetes can affect our dental health.  

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a long-lasting health condition that affects the way your body converts your food into energy. Much of the food we consume is broken down into glucose (sugar) and discharged into our bloodstream. After you eat, your blood sugar increases, which prompts your pancreas to release insulin. Insulin alerts your body’s cells to absorb the blood sugar and use it as energy.  If you have diabetes, your body either does not produce enough insulin or its ability to properly use insulin is inhibited. This can result in having too much sugar in the blood, which can cause varying health conditions. There is currently no cure for diabetes.

Types of Diabetes

There are three types of diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes

  • Possibly caused by an autoimmune reaction (the body attacks itself by mistake)
  • Your pancreas makes little to no insulin
  • Most likely diagnosed in children, teens, and young adults (However, it can develop at any age)
  • 5-10% of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes
  • Insulin shots or an insulin pump every day is needed to manage your blood sugar levels to provide your body with the energy it needs.

Type 2 Diabetes

  • The body does not use insulin well, and the ability to maintain normal blood sugar levels is inhibited
  • The body’s inability to respond properly to insulin is called insulin resistance
  • Most likely diagnosed in adults (However, an increase number of children, teens, and young adults are developing it)
  • 90-95% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes
  • Healthy eating and an active lifestyle or a doctor prescribed injectable or oral medications are required to manage your blood sugar levels

Gestational Diabetes

  • Develops during pregnancy in women who do not already have diabetes
  • The body does not make enough insulin during pregnancy
  • 2% to 10% of pregnancies are affected by gestational diabetes
  • It usually goes away after pregnancy, but about 50% of women develop type 2
  • The baby has an increased chance of experiencing other health issues
  • Healthy and balanced eating and exercise and possible prescribed medication is used to control sugar levels

In each case of diabetes, the result is high levels of sugar in your blood. Too much sugar in your bloodstream overtime cause serious health conditions with the eyes, nerves, kidneys, heart, and other parts of your body. Yes, this includes your smile!

Symptoms of Untreated Diabetes

  • Urinate a lot
  • Extreme thirst
  • Weight loss
  • Are very hungry
  • Blurry vision
  • Numb or tingling hands or feet
  • Fatigue
  • Very dry skin
  • Have sores that heal slowly
  • Have more infections than usual

When left untreated, diabetes can cause dental health problems.

  • You may have a reduced amount of saliva, which can cause your mouth to feel dry (Dry mouth [xerostomia] is also caused by certain medications)
  • Because your saliva is your natural tooth protector, you are more likely to get cavities (tooth decay) because of dry mouth
  • Gingivitis (inflamed bleeding gums) may occur
  • Issues with tasting food
  • You may experience delayed dental wound healing
  • Increased change of having infections in your mouth
  • For children with diabetes, teeth may erupt at an age earlier than is typical

Gum disease is the most prevalent dental disease among those with diabetes. It affects nearly 22% of those diagnosed with diabetes.  Poor control of blood sugar levels increases the chance for gum problems.  Gum disease is an infection in the mouth; therefore, like with all infections, if the gum infection is serious and untreated, it can spike blood sugar levels. Uncontrolled diabetes makes you more prone to infections and inhibits your body’s ability to get rid of the germs that harm your gums.

How Your Dental Healthcare Professional Can Help Manage Diabetes

Oral health related things you should do to manage diabetes:

  • Firstly, this is a team effort of self-care and professional care
  • Treat gum disease (assists with improving blood sugar control and decreasing the progression of the disease)
  • Have professional “deep cleanings”
  • Actively practice good oral hygiene (Brush two times a day & Clean between your teeth everyday)
  • Control your blood sugar levels by adopting a healthy diet, active lifestyle and using your diabetes-related medications as directed
  • Good blood sugar control increases your body’s ability to fight any oral bacterial or fungal infections and it helps relieve dry mouth
  • Stop Smoking
  • Clean your denture each day if you have any
  • See your dentist for regular checkups

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