OK, I'll admit it: I hate going to the dentist.
Having someone poke around my mouth with a sharp metal object is not my idea of a good time. But unfortunately, as a PWD, it's not only a good idea, it's pretty critical. Aside from keeping our teeth sparkly and happy, trips to the dentist every 6 months also keep us informed on whether or not we're developing gum disease, which is just one of many complications of diabetes.
Fittingly, October not only hosts Halloween, but it's also National Dental Hygiene Month, so to continue our ongoing "411 info series" on what you need to know about diabetes and its complications, we're going to talk about gum disease today. Excited?
You might be wondering: 'Diabetes affects my gums, too? Really?!"
Really. And gum disease is not something you want to mess with. It is gross. Google it if you want proof. Gum disease (which also called periodontal disease — same thing) takes form as gingivitis and periodontitis. In gingivitis, bacteria in plaque build up in the gums around your teeth, making them swollen and red, and causes the gums to bleed when you brush your teeth. If you're spitting out blood when your brush, you probably have gingivitis.
In periodontitis, things have progressed even further, and you can get periodontitis without ever having gingivitis. Your gums and bone start to pull away from your teeth, causing pockets to form. Bacteria gets into these pockets and wreak nasty havoc. As the disease progresses, more bone and gum are destroyed by the bacteria, and eventually you can lose your teeth. There are two stages of periodontitis — mild and severe — and the bone loss that occurs is irreversible. Ack!
Since gingivitis and periodontal disease are bacterial infections, folks with diabetes sometimes have a harder time fighting them off, which means you might be more prone to frequent and severe gum disease. This is because, like in retinopathy and neuropathy, high blood sugar damages the blood vessels that carry nutrients around the body, including the mouth. Some researchers think an enzyme called aldose reductase may be to blame. They're experimenting with blocking the production of this enzyme in and around the gums (in diabetic rats) to see if that helps prevent gum disease.
Meanwhile, we human PWDs still have to do our best to prevent gum damage. With a lot of complications in diabetes, it's easy to think that you don't have to worry about things until years down the road. Not so with gum disease. In fact, as children get older, periodontal disease becomes more common, probably because teens are not exactly known for their enthusiastic brushing habits.
Gum disease is actually one of the most common complications of diabetes, with almost 80% of adults having some form of gum disease. Since there are varying degrees of severity with gum disease, it's important to keep a close eye on your gums throughout the year to make sure problems don't progress.
Personally, I dealt with gingivitis as a teenager, because I wasn't exactly on board with the whole flossing bit (I'm still a terrible flosser, but I'm getting better). Luckily, regular visits to my dentist kept me aware of what was going on right in front of my face — literally! Plus, gum disease isn't even the end of our woes; diabetes may also cause thrush (a yeast infection) in the mouth and dry mouth.
The main ways to prevent gum disease are:
- brush and floss... every day!
- visit the dentist every 6 months
- notify your dentist if you notice any changes, like bleeding of the gums
- manage your blood sugars
It's a small price to pay for keeping your teeth though, right?