There is a symbiotic relationship between diabetes and oral health. It becomes much harder to maintain good oral health without carefully controlling the diabetes, and diabetes becomes harder to control when oral health isn’t a priority.
Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong chronic disease in which the pancreas doesn’t produce insulin, a critical hormone that controls blood sugar levels. It is typically diagnosed in childhood. Without insulin, sugar builds up in the bloodstream, where it can cause life-threatening complications. Common symptoms of type 1 diabetes include thirst, fatigue, weight loss, frequent urination, vision changes, and breath that smells fruity and sweet.
We hear all the time how bad sugar is for teeth. Harmful oral bacteria loves eating the leftover sugar in our mouths after we eat or drink something sweet, but it also loves the sugar in the bloodstream. In addition, high blood sugar is hard on the immune system, making it more difficult to fight back against that same bacteria and leaving diabetic patients particularly vulnerable to oral inflammation and tooth decay.
More than a fifth of diabetics develop some form of gum disease, ranging from gingivitis (the early stages of inflammation) all the way to periodontitis (advanced gum disease), which threatens the teeth, gums, and supporting bone. Even overall health can be a victim of gum disease, if the bacteria causing it reaches the bloodstream.
Symptoms to watch out for include swollen, red, or bleeding gums, chronic bad breath, gum recession, and teeth feeling looser. Any of these can indicate poor gum health. Diabetes also increases the risk of developing other problems (which in turn increase the risk of gum disease) such as impaired healing ability, more frequent and severe infections, dry mouth, enlarged salivary glands, fungal infections, and burning mouth syndrome.
Gum disease, whether a complication of diabetes or not, can present a challenge for orthodontic treatment. Any parents of kids with type 1 diabetes considering orthodontic treatment should take extra care to help their children maintain control of their diabetes and oral health so that their treatment can go forward and they’ll be able to enjoy the benefits of a properly aligned smile.
Type 1 diabetes can complicate a lot of things about daily life, but it is still possible to achieve and maintain good oral health with it. Maintaining good daily oral hygiene habits like brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush and flossing daily will definitely make a difference. So will keeping up with regular dental checkups and being careful with sugar intake.
Regular dental exams are especially essential for those with diabetes, because the early signs of dental problems aren’t always obvious and the sooner they’re caught, the easier they are to deal with. Your child’s doctor can also work with the pediatric dentist in helping to manage both their diabetes and their oral health, which is why it’s important to keep them both in the loop!