Ask the Dentist: Diabetes raises oral health risks

Diabetics face greater oral health risks of decay, gum disease and broken teeth, says Lucy Stock of Gentle Dental Care in Belfast

Diabetics need to be careful about checking their blood sugar levels, as well as their oral health.
Diabetics need to be careful about checking their blood sugar levels, as well as their oral health.

WE think of diabetes as a disease where people must be very careful about their sugar intake so it would be reasonable to assume that diabetics don't have as much trouble with their teeth.

Surprisingly, however, this isn't the case. A recent study has shown that diabetics are more at risk from the big three oral problems of tooth decay, gum disease and teeth breaking.

Diabetes affects almost 5 million people in the UK with 850,000 people running around completely unaware that they have it.

A staggering 9,600 toes, legs or feet are amputated every year and 700 people die prematurely each week in the UK due to diabetic complications. With ever-expanding waistbands these numbers are on the rise.

When we eat food, the body absorbs glucose which is used to make energy. The hormone insulin helps the body absorb glucose and deposits it into cells.

But in diabetes things go wrong and the glucose isn't absorbed, it remains in the blood stream.

Super-high blood sugar levels affect practically every part of the body, and the mouth doesn't escape.

This latest study has shown that teeth are actually softer in people with diabetes making them flakier and more liable to break.

Exasperatingly, another consequence of long-term diabetes is that it dries out the mouth while at the same time changing the composition of the remaining saliva and loading it with glucose.

Teeth clad in weaker enamel armour eventually succumb to the dry sugary environment and holes start to appear.

When a tooth is severely diseased the nerve of the tooth dies, creating a pus ball of infection around the root tip.

This normally ends up in excruciating pain, facial swelling, and panicked phone calls to the dental practice.

A root filling is then performed to kick-start the healing of the abscess. Again, diabetics get the rough end of the stick, as the normal healing process of infection is slower and not as effective.

Diabetics can offset these issues with a meticulous oral care routine, regular check-ups and as far as possible trying to keep the blood sugars within a good range, which can help to slow down any damage.