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Diabetes and gum disease: making the connection

Discover the importance of keeping your mouth healthy when living with diabetes


By David Klein, DDS, FAGD, FACD
October 6, 2017

     


Germs. They’re the reason we wash our hands so often, especially during cold and flu season. While those germs certainly cause a lot of discomfort, so can the bad germs in your mouth.

If you’re living with diabetes, your immune system isn’t as strong as you might like it to be. That makes you more susceptible to gum disease. The worst part about gum disease is that it can raise your blood sugar. And that makes it harder to control diabetes.

Let’s take a closer look at the connection between diabetes and gum disease, so you can be armed with the right information.

What is gum disease?

Gum disease is caused by bad bacteria in your mouth. It can form deposits called calculus or tartar and stick to your teeth along the gum line. Once these deposits harden, they can only be removed by a dentist or dental hygienist.

If these deposits are left alone, they get bigger and travel to the root of the tooth. This can destroy the gums’ attachment to bone that supports your teeth. The worst part is, if you don’t take care of the problem, teeth can get loose, infected or even fall out. Nobody wants that to happen.

Is gum disease common?

There are more people with gum disease than you may think. According to the American Dental Association, half of all the people in the U.S. who are 30 or older have periodontitis, a form of gum disease. So, you’re definitely not alone if you have gum disease.

How are gum disease and diabetes related?

Your body is a connected system and often one area can affect another. Gum disease is an infection. The infection causes harmful bacteria to travel to other parts of your body, including your bloodstream. Once it’s in the bloodstream, it’s been shown to make blood sugar levels go up.

What should you watch for?

Pay close attention to any changes in your mouth, such as:

  • Redness and soreness along your gum line
  • Gums that bleed after brushing or flossing
  • Spaces that have formed between your teeth
  • Bad breath
  • Loose teeth
  • Chewing that is uncomfortable

These are all potential warning signs of gum disease.

When should you see a dentist?

It’s best to see your dentist as soon as possible if you spot any of these warning signs. Visiting your dentist for regular checkups and cleanings is a great step in protecting the health of your mouth.

While it might seem strange at first to tell your dentist you have diabetes, it’s important for them know. Why? Many health issues can be seen in the mouth. Think of your mouth as an early detection area. A dentist can spot signs of diseases and other health issues just by looking in your mouth.

How is gum disease treated?

If you do have gum disease, there are several ways to treat it and keep it under control. Visiting your dentist more often for checkups and teeth cleanings is a start. Your dentist may also use root planing and scaling as treatment. Think of these as a deep cleaning, where the dentist goes just below your gum line to clean down to the root of your tooth.

Root planing and scaling are non-surgical procedures and may take a couple visits to complete. A local anesthesia is often provided to keep you comfortable. Scaling is the process of removing the plaque, bacteria and tartar from your teeth. Root planing is simply smoothing the tooth’s root surface. A smooth root surface makes it harder for bacteria to stick and can help the gums reattach to the root surface, making it easier to control gum disease in the future.

Is all gum disease the same?

Gum disease can take many forms; from gingivitis to chronic periodontitis. Fortunately, gingivitis is reversible with treatment from your dentist and stepped up care at home. Periodontitis can’t be cured, but it can be controlled with more aggressive treatment and better care at home.

What can you do?

A few minutes of brushing and flossing every day goes a long way toward preventing gum disease. Brush at least twice a day and clean between your teeth with floss or another tool that can get between your teeth. If you have trouble using a toothbrush the right way, there are many electric ones that do a great job. Ask your dentist for help choosing one that’s best for you.

What’s the takeaway?

There’s a strong link between diabetes and gum disease, since both are chronic, inflammatory diseases. Controlling one can help control the other. Research shows that controlling gum disease can have a positive impact on blood sugar and may prevent more costly medical visits. Ask your dentist about a gum management plan that’s best for you.

If you have a HealthPartners Dental plan, you probably have a benefit that provides 100 percent coverage for gum disease treatment if you’re diabetic and at risk of gum disease.

Get in touch to learn more about how HealthPartners can help:

  • Call Member Services for questions about your HealthPartners Dental plan at 800-883-2177
  • Find a dentist that’s right for you — log in or sign up for an online account

About David Klein, DDS, FAGD, FACD

Dr. David Klein is the Assistant Dental Director of the HealthPartners Dental Plan. Prior to joining HealthPartners, he owned and operated a successful private dental practice in Bloomington, Minn. He was also a full-time faculty member at the University of Minnesota, School of Dentistry. A lifetime Minnesotan, Dr. Klein enjoys nature photography, exploring national parks across the country with his wife and two kids, and staying active through racquetball, tennis and biking. “HealthPartners strongly promotes the mouth-body connection through research, plan design and care delivery, which makes it an exciting place to work,” Dr. Klein says. He appreciates the HealthPartners philosophy and promotion of medical-dental integration, which is why he’s an advocate for educating expecting moms on the importance of oral health during pregnancy.

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