Brushing your teeth is not only a matter of hygiene; it is crucial for overall health. This is especially true if you are a patient with diabetes.

Making sure we brush our teeth and floss correctly not only helps fight cavities, but also helps to prevent a common and often very serious gum infection called gingivitis. Gingivitis affects as many as half of our adult population. It is caused by bacteria that live in dental plaque and produce byproducts that induce “inflammation.” 

Remember that diabetes as being an inflammatory condition. Gingivitis has been linked to one of the causes of diabetes, or at the very least a major contributor. Gingivitis can also contribute to heart disease and since patients with diabetes can be more prone to heart disease, this is an important point to consider.

In truth,  researchers are still trying to define if periodontal disease is a cause of diabetes or if patients with diabetes are just more prone to conditions such as gingivitis. We may find it’s a little bit of both. High blood glucose does “feed” bacteria, so good diabetes control is very important to maintain oral health. Smoking can also exacerbate any mouth infections, and we all know that smoking is damaging to blood vessels as well.

Regular Dental Visits

Where else do we begin our journey to good oral health? If you said the dentist, you are absolutely correct. You need to visit your dentist twice a year for regular check-ups, if possible and see your hygienist for cleanings as often as recommended. It is a good idea to make sure your dentist’s office knows you have diabetes, as they may want to have a more aggressive oral health plan in place for you to keep you healthy.

The first signs of gingivitis must be addressed early that it doesn’t progress to the more serious phase of periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is the loss of gum tissue that attaches tooth to bone and can eventually result in a deformed jaw- bone and/or tooth loss. Symptoms of gingivitis include red swollen gums, bleeding gums, sensitive teeth, and teeth feeling loose just to name a few.

Choosing the Right Brush, Floss and Paste

Dental floss and brushing are the first steps to a healthy mouth. Choosing a toothbrush is an important step in the process. Toothbrushes with soft nylon bristles are recommended because they cause minimal damage to the teeth and gums. Soft bristles are more flexible and can get around the curvature of the teeth. You should also try to avoid rigorous brushing, which can cause damage to the enamel and gum-line. Using a smaller head toothbrush may be more beneficial as well.

As we continue to strive for better oral health, let us not forget about flossing, which is so very important to the integrity of our teeth and oral health. Your dentist is the final verdict for just how much to floss, but even flossing once daily can make significant improvements in your oral health. 

If you already have some periodontal disease, flossing alone may not reach all the crevices in your mouth where bacteria can reside, so a professional deep clean may be recommended that your hygienist can perform at various intervals until bacterial growth reaches acceptable levels. This can be addressed by having your dentist looking at the condition of your gums. Remember, inflammation signals bacteria, and bacteria further aggravates inflammation, which can lead to poor diabetes control and even heart disease.

Lastly, choosing a toothpaste may seem like a relatively simple task, but there are some ingredients, such as SLS, or sodium laurel sulfate, that are more likely to cause damage to the teeth in susceptible individuals. It has been suggested in some studies to date that SLS can cause irritation to the oral tissues; this can sometimes be one of the causes of canker sores. 

Look for toothpaste without SLS if you are sensitive or already may have gingivitis or periodontal disease. Some examples of SLS free toothpaste are Biotene®, Sensodyne Gel®, and Tom’s of Main®.

Stay Hydrated

Keep in mind that dry mouth is a big risk factor for bacterial infections.  Some medications such as certain anti-depressants and medication for incontinence can cause dry mouth. This can be treated with over the counter preparations as well as some prescription medication when necessary. Staying hydrated is also important.

Oral Health Tied to Overall Health

Neglecting our oral health has become a huge issue in this country.  According to the American Dental Association, three out of four adults over age 35 have some form of gum disease. We know that oral hygiene can prevent tooth loss, but now we know that good oral hygiene can potentially increase our life span.

Metabolic syndrome and periodontitis have recently been linked as having an additive adverse effect on blood vessels when these two disease states co-exist. Metabolic syndrome is a combination of medical disorders such as increased blood pressure, elevated insulin levels, excess body fat and elevated cholesterol. Metabolic syndrome is also a strong precursor or risk factor in the development of diabetes.

The mouth is reflective of much more than oral health, it reflects the health of the entire body. The arteries of our circulatory system can be affected if oral health is bad. Multiple studies have proven this including one recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology which showed that the more severe the gum disease, the thicker and harder the artery walls become.  This is indeed a key component of heart disease.

Stay well , and take care of your teeth; they’re connected to the rest of your body!