Information for Diabetics
When people think about a healthy mouth, what usually comes to mind is brushing and flossing and going to the dentist for regular cleanings and checkups. All of that is important, of course. But what sometimes gets overlooked is how our food intake and nutrition status affect the health of our teeth and gums. The elevated blood sugar levels associated with diabetes can lead to dental difficulties, as well as slow the healing process following a dental procedure. Here are some tips that may help you avoid these potential complications.
The most common oral health problems associated with diabetes are:
- Tooth decay
- Periodontal (gum) disease (gingivitis, periodontitis)
- Salivary gland dysfunction (dry mouth)
- Fungal infections (candidiasis, also called thrush)
- Lichen planus and lichenoid reactions (inflammatory skin conditions that can cause sores within the mouth)
- Infection and delayed healing
- Taste impairment
In addition to increasing your risk of tooth loss, poor oral health also may make diabetes more difficult to manage. Infection can cause blood sugar levels to rise, requiring more insulin to keep glucose levels under control.
Constant high blood glucose levels are the main culprit, and high blood glucose levels can also lead to other oral conditions, such as xerostomia (dry mouth) and candidiasis (oral yeast infection). The first line of defense for preventing these conditions is to aim for blood glucose levels in your target range (usually 90–130 mg/dl before meals and less than 160 mg/dl two hours after meals).
Tips For Keeping Your Teeth And Gums Healthy
Daily brushing and flossing, regular dental check-ups 3 times a year and effectively controlling your blood glucose levels are the best defenses against the oral complications of diabetes. If you smoke – stop. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, recent studies have shown that tobacco use may be one of the most significant risk factors in the development and progression of periodontal disease.
If you notice any of the following symptoms, see your dentist as soon as possible. Don't wait until your next dental appointment to address them.
- Red, tender, swollen gums.
- Gums that bleed when you brush them, even if they're not sore.
- Gums that are pulling away from your teeth (the teeth may appear longer).
- Pressing on the gums around the teeth produces pus.
- A "bad taste" is always present in your mouth.
- Your teeth are loose.
- You notice any changes in your bite (the way your top and bottom teeth touch) or, if you wear dentures, the way your dentures fit or feel.
When you do visit your dentist, please advise him or her:
That you have been diagnosed with diabetes;
Whether your diabetes/blood sugar is under control; and
Of the names of all prescription and over-the-counter drugs you are taking.
Don't overlook the importance of eating a balanced diet. All nutrients are important for good oral health. An inadequate intake of protein, vitamins, and minerals can, of course, lead to any number of health problems, including tooth and gum disease.
4 Important Supplements: Vitamin C, Magnesium, Calcium, and Vitamin D.
The two key nutrients that can help fight periodontal disease are vitamin C and magnesium. In addition to raising blood glucose levels, diabetes can boost levels of inflammatory chemicals called interleukins that can increase the risk of periodontal disease. Both vitamin C and magnesium may counteract this effect by enhancing the body's immune response to infection and inflammation. Good sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, strawberries, red peppers, and broccoli. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin C is 75 milligrams (mg) for women and 90 mg for men. Magnesium is found in foods such as whole grains, almonds, spinach, and beans. The RDA for magnesium is 320 mg for women and 420 mg for men.
Calcium and vitamin D are also vital for good dental health. A study done at Tufts University in 2003, originally designed to look at the effect of calcium and vitamin D on hip bone strength in adults, revealed that participants who took calcium and vitamin D supplements for three years were half as likely to lose teeth as those not taking supplements. Other studies have shown that both calcium and vitamin D not only help prevent bone and tooth loss, but they also play a role in reducing inflammation (which can lead to periodontal disease). Aim for between 1,000 and 1,200 mg of calcium and 400 to 600 International Units (IU) of vitamin D each day. Food sources of calcium include milk, yogurt, and pudding (choose nonfat or low-fat varieties), along with salmon, dark green vegetables, and calcium-fortified tofu. Vitamin D is found in fortified milk, eggs, fortified cereals, and salmon.
And if you enjoy tea, drink up. Studies show that the polyphenols (types of antioxidants) in tea may help prevent cavities and periodontal disease by preventing bacteria from sticking to your teeth. Tea may even lower the risk of developing cancerous oral lesions, too.