Diabetes and gum disease share a close, two-way relationship. People with diabetes are three times more likely to develop gum disease compared to those who don’t have the disease. And gum disease can contribute to or worsen diabetes.
Our seasoned team at AnnMarie Olson DDS PA, can help you prevent gum disease with individualized care that includes exceptional in-office cleanings along with teaching you the best way to keep your mouth and gums healthy.
Here’s what you need to know about gum disease, and how diabetes puts your dental health at risk.
Stages of gum disease
Gum disease doesn’t suddenly appear; it develops in stages, giving you time to get treatment to prevent serious problems:
Stage 1: Plaque
Digestion begins in your mouth as saliva breaks down carbohydrates. The carbs release sugar, which combines with saliva and bacteria that normally live in your mouth to create plaque.
Plaque is a sticky substance that holds onto your teeth. Meanwhile, the bacteria in the plaque feed on sugar, producing and releasing acids and other toxins.
If brushing doesn’t remove the plaque, it keeps holding the bacteria and acids next to your teeth, where they’re perfectly positioned to erode the enamel and cause tooth decay.
Stage 2: Tartar
If plaque remains on your teeth, it hardens into tartar, creating a more permanent environment where bacteria thrive — and have easy access to your gums.
Stage 3: Gum infection
The bacteria invade your gums, causing an infection called gingivitis. If you have gingivitis, you may notice problems such as:
- Gums that bleed when brushing
- Foul breath odor
- Swollen gums
- Dark red gums
- Receding gums
As plaque spreads below the gumline, the acids cause ongoing (chronic) inflammation, and that leads to the next stage: periodontal disease.
Stage 4: Periodontal disease
Periodontal disease (periodontitis) is the most severe form of gum disease. Without treatment, your gums break down and soften, allowing the infection to penetrate deeper. Ultimately, periodontitis erodes the underlying jawbone, putting you at risk of tooth loss.
Impact of diabetes on gum disease
Diabetes has a huge impact on your dental health. Here’s how diabetes leads to gum disease — or makes existing gum disease worse:
Diabetes affects the salivary glands in your mouth and as a result, they produce less saliva. Beyond digesting carbs, saliva has another vital role: It prevents tooth decay by flushing away food particles.
Your saliva also blocks bacterial growth and counteracts the acids produced by bacteria. Having less saliva allows more bacteria to grow and form plaque.
More glucose in your saliva
When your blood sugar levels are high, the sugar levels in your saliva also increase, and that promotes bacterial growth. At the same time, infections from gum disease can elevate your blood sugar levels, making it harder to control your diabetes. This sets you up for an ongoing cycle of progressive gum disease.
Difficulty treating infections
Diabetes affects your body’s ability to fight an early gum infection. For starters, people with diabetes tend to have a more intense inflammatory response. What might be a mild gum infection for most people begins as a more serious problem for those with diabetes.
Whether you have a mild or severe gum infection, diabetes can interfere with the healing process. High blood sugar damages blood vessels, reducing the supply of oxygen and nutrients and putting your gums at greater risk of a worsening infection.
Gum disease prevention
The first step toward preventing gum disease and other serious diabetes complications like heart disease, kidney disease, and non-healing foot ulcers, is keeping your blood sugar within the normal range. This means following a healthy diet, watching your carb consumption, getting exercise, and for some, taking medications to keep blood sugar levels in check.
Beyond taking care of your diabetes, preventing gum disease requires keeping your teeth clean. You should brush at least twice daily using a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. It also helps to brush after each meal when you can.
It’s also critically important to clean between your teeth by flossing at least once a day with dental floss, or using a specialized brush designed to fit between teeth.
Getting regular dental care is just as crucial as daily brushing. No matter how diligently you brush and floss, some plaque and tartar can develop. The specialized instruments we use to clean your teeth are the only way to eliminate hardened tartar and plaque that has seeped below your gum line.
If you have questions about your dental care or need to schedule a checkup, call AnnMarie Olson DDS PA, today.