Being diabetic increases your risk of tooth decay, gum disease, thrush, dry mouth and burning mouth syndrome. So what do you have to do to maintain the health of your mouth?
Diabetes can give rise to a raft of oral problems. These include gums that are red, sore, bleeding, or swollen, or that pull away from your teeth, loose teeth, falling teeth and dark spots or holes in your teeth. You may also develop an irregular bite, or find your dentures no longer fit well.
In addition, you may have a changed sense of taste or you may experience pain when chewing. You may also have persistent pain in the mouth, face, or jaw, along with frequent infections in your mouth, sores or ulcers that do not heal, as well as chronic bad breath.
However, keeping your mouth healthy, and avoiding these problems, is pretty easy.
To take good care of your gums and teeth, all you have to do is:
- maintain good control over your blood glucose levels;
- eat a healthy diabetes-beating diet;
- brush your teeth at least twice a day;
- floss your teeth at least once a day;
- take care of your dentures (if you have them);
- refrain from smoking tobacco;
- Check your mouth regularly; and
- have a dental check-up and a clean every six months.
Nothing could be simpler.
Controlling blood glucose
You need to check your blood sugar first thing in the morning and two hours after each meal during the day.
Try to keep your numbers within the range of 5 to 7 mmol/l (90 to 126 mg/dl). Most diabetics can do so using diet alone provided they know what to eat and what not to eat.
Blood glucose testing only indicates how you are doing at the time you take the test, so you should also have a Haemoglobin A1c (HbA1C) test every four months or so to find out how well you are controlling your blood glucose over time.
Eat a diabetes-beating diet
You can beat your diabetes by eating foods that are (1) low in sugar, (2) low in fat, (3) low in salt, (4) high in fibre and (5) digested slowly.
The easiest way to do this is to focus on natural, unprocessed foods that are mostly plants.
In addition, you need to avoid all dairy products (milk, butter, cream, ice cream, cheese etc) and eggs, and to drink plenty of water.
Avoid sugary snacks, as these will not only spike blood glucose but also contribute to tooth decay. Instead, go for crunchy nibbles such as apples, celery and carrots that will actually clean your teeth as you chew them.
This diet will help you avoid the horrendous consequences of diabetes.
Not only will you be reducing your risk of serious problem with your mouth, you will also be making it less likely that you will get extremely serious medical conditions such as heart disease, strokes, blindness, malfunctioning kidneys and diabetic neuropathy.
Brush your teeth
Brush your teeth at least twice a day, when you get up in the morning and at night before you go to bed. Ideally you should also brush your teeth after meals and snacks.
Regular brushing will help to rid your mouth of the bacteria that cause plaque and oral infections. In addition, it will make your breath smell sweet.
Use toothpaste that contains fluoride. Fluoride in your toothpaste will keep your teeth strong and protect them against decay. Some fluoride toothpastes are designed for sensitive teeth.
A good quality toothbrush, which has soft nylon bristles with rounded ends, is best. A dentist or hygienist will be able to advice you on the best type to use.
A new toothbrush removes more plaque, so you should change your toothbrush every three months—or sooner if it looks worn or the bristles are beginning to spread out.
Your toothbrush should feel comfortable in your hand. Use it gently, brushing the gum-line in small, circular motions, holding it at a 45-degree angle against the gums, for a full two minutes.
Avoid vigorous back-and-forth brushing along the line where your gums meet your teeth, as this will eventually wear your teeth away at the gum-line.
As well as the front of each tooth, you should also brush the back and top. Brush your tongue also.
Use the same technique if you have an electric toothbrush. These can be useful if you have arthritis or other problems that make it difficult to brush well.
Finishing of with an anti-bacterial mouthwash is a good idea. You can find anti-gingivitis mouth-rinses designed to control plaque or prevent gum disease in your local pharmacy.
Use dental floss to clean in between your teeth at least once a day, preferably in the evening. Flossing helps control the build-up of plaque, because it can reach between the teeth where a toothbrush can’t go and remove plaque from under your gum-line.
When flossing, slide the thread up and down and then curve it around the base of each tooth, using clean sections of floss as you move from tooth to tooth. If you have trouble getting floss through your teeth, use the waxed type.
Some people, including this writer, find floss awkward and hard to manipulate. If you are among us, try using a floss holder.
You should, of course, ask your dentist for tips if you are having problems flossing. Like everything else, flossing gets easier with practice.
As an alternative (or complement) to flossing, you can use tooth picks (aka dental picks) to clean between your teeth.
Take Care of Your Dentures
Loose-fitting or poorly maintained dentures can lead to gum irritation, sores, and infections.
So it is important to talk to your dentist about any changes in how your dentures fit in your mouth and have them adjusted as necessary.
Being diabetic, you are at a higher risk than non-diabetics for fungal infections such as thrush and mouth sores that do not heal easily. In addition, poorly maintained dentures can contribute to thrush.
Thus, to reduce the risk of infection, it is important that your remove and clean your dentures every day.
Smoking increases the risk of serious diabetes complications, including gum disease, so you just have to give it up.
Check your mouth
You should check your teeth and the inside of your mouth for signs of disease, especially for early signs of gum problems, such as red, swollen or bleeding gums, loose teeth, dry mouth or pain.
If you notice any signs of gum disease or any other oral symptoms that worry you, you should see your dentist as soon as possible and take his advice.
Visit your dentist regularly
Your dentist can spot gum disease even if you do not have any pain or other symptoms. Thus, you should visit your dentist twice a year to have your mouth checked thoroughly.
Gum disease starts when bacteria on your teeth harden into tartar and only a dentist can clear that tartar away, so your visit should also include having your teeth professionally cleaned.
Be upfront with your dentist. Make sure he or she knows you have diabetes and what medicines you are taking. Indeed it is a good idea to remind him or her every time you visit.
You should also let him know how successful you are at controlling your diabetes by letting him have the results of your daily glucose testing or your A1C tests. In addition, make sure you inform him about any changes in your health or the medicines you are taking.
Whatever else you do, follow your dentist’s advice. If he or she says you have a problem, take care of it right away by following his advice.
A dentist is best placed to teach you the best ways to care for your teeth and gums at home, and keep your mouth healthy.