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Dear Diabetes: Diabetes and Oral Health

An RN discusses gum disease and living with diabetes

If you are living with diabetes, have you talked to your dentist about diabetes and oral health?

Some people may go about their daily lives without giving much thought to oral health – meaning the health of teeth, gums and tongue. However,  the Mayo Clinic considers the state of a person’s oral health to be a “window to overall health.”

High blood glucose levels may contribute to problems with the eyes, kidneys, nerves and heart, and they may also lead to problems in the mouth.

Infection or swelling in the gums is a mild form of gum disease called gingivitis. If gingivitis goes untreated, it may lead to inflammation and infection in the ligaments and bones that support the teeth, which is known as periodontitis, a more severe form of gum disease.

Gum disease develops from a buildup of plaque on your teeth, which comes from bacteria in your mouth. While the early stages of gum disease may happen without warning, the American Academy of Periodontology lists the following signs for gum disease:

Because of the increased risk for gum disease for people living with diabetes, it is important to stay on top of oral care. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that people living with diabetes strive to keep blood glucose levels in a safe and healthy range in order to minimize oral health problems. The ADA encourages brushing at least twice a day and flossing – or using an interdental cleaner – at least once a day. In addition to brushing and flossing and keeping blood glucose levels within range, regular dental check-ups are advisable.  (Be sure to talk to your diabetes care team if you have questions about target ranges for blood sugar levels.)

If you’re not sure if your routine is adequate, ask your dentist or hygienist for tips on how to brush; they may advise you to try an electronic toothbrush that has a built-in timer to make sure you brush for two to four minutes at least twice a day.

For more information, the American Diabetes Association has a section on oral health and hygiene, which has guidelines for brushing and flossing.

Jane K. Dickinson, RN, PhD, CDE* (@janekdickinson) is a nurse and diabetes educator in Northwestern Colorado. She is the program coordinator and faculty for the online Master of Science in Diabetes Education and Management program at Teachers College, Columbia University. Jane is also the author of People With Diabetes Can Eat Anything: It’s All About Balance.

*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.

© 2014 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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