Understanding the Link Between Gum Disease and Diabetes

Gum health

Good oral health is important to maintain a healthy mouth, allowing us to eat and drink without discomfort, speak, and confidently smile.

However, did you know good oral health and visit a regular dental hygienist and periodontist (dental gum specialist) is essential to enhance overall well-being?

It is well-known that millions of good and bad bacteria dwell in the oral cavity. When our oral health gets compromised, harmful bacteria multiply and outnumber good bacteria. Harmful bacteria that cause gum diseases like gingivitis and periodontitis can also damage other body systems.

Many non-contagious diseases and gum diseases have been shown to have a two-way relationship.

What is gum disease?

Gum disease begins when bacteria and plaque build-up on your teeth. This happens when your toothbrush or floss doesn’t reach certain areas. Plaque accumulation is hard to see because it is the same colour as your teeth in the initial stages. With time harmful bacteria in plaque start irritating your gums, so your gum gets swollen and red. The first stage of gum disease is gingivitis, a reversible condition when adequate and proper home care is adopted.  However, if you don’t maintain good oral hygiene at home, gingivitis can lead to periodontitis which needs professional care to control and eradicate.

How bad is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects your body’s ability to process sugar. High blood sugar can lead to problems with your eyes, nerves, kidneys, heart and mouth. Diabetes can also lower your body’s ability to fight off infection and slows down how fast you heal. If you have uncontrolled diabetes, you are at higher risk of gum disease and even losing teeth and vice versa.

Gum diseases vs Diabetes

Chronic untreated gum diseases can make diabetes worse and lead to other harmful complications throughout your body.

On the other hand, if you have diabetes, you have more bacteria than expected and could end up with gum disease. People with diabetes have compromised immune responses to fight bacteria invading or naturally occurring in their mouths. All infections cause blood sugar to rise. Thus, gum disease makes diabetes harder to manage because diabetes and gum disease are linked.

Some of the adverse biological effects that uncontrolled diabetes can have on your mouth include,

  • Gum disease and tooth loss
  • Dental cavities
  • Cracked dry lips or mouth ulcers.
  • Opportunistic Infectious lesions, e.g., thrush
  • Delayed healing

It is important to see your dentist regularly, even for people with diabetes with well-controlled blood sugar.

Research shows that treating gum disease can help lower blood sugar and stop gum disease from getting worse. Cleaning the teeth well at home and getting deep cleanings can also help you lower your long-term blood sugar or HbA1c. Removing or treating infected teeth is another way a dentist works with your healthcare team to help you manage your diabetes.

How can you help yourself?