Diabetes and Oral Health

In the United States, an estimated 27 million people have the metabolic disorder known as Type 2 diabetes, and another 86 million are considered pre-diabetic. Type 2 diabetes causes high blood sugar, insulin resistance and low insulin levels. If left untreated or improperly managed, it can also cause everything from glaucoma and cataracts to nerve damage, infections and even tooth and bone loss. Many people don’t realize they have diabetes until it’s too late, putting them at further risk for serious side effects and even death. But did you know that there are many oral-health warning signs that can act as a red flag for diabetes and pre-diabetes? Get to know these indicators – they may just save your life!

Bad Breath

Yes, believe it or not, bad breath can be a sign of type 2 diabetes. That’s because when you have high blood sugar, you will have elevated levels of glucose in your saliva. Unfortunately, all that extra glucose is a veritable buffet for s mutans bacteria, the bacteria that cause bad breath and cavities. So if you have unexplained bad breath, it could be due to type 2 diabetes.

Excessive Thirst

Always thirsty but not sure why? It could be diabetes. This is because of something called hyperglycemia. Hyperglycemia happens when high levels of sugar accumulate in the blood. The kidneys become overworked and cannot keep up with the demand to filter the glucose out of the blood. As a result, the kidneys produce more urine than usual, causing what is known as polyuria, which in turn causes dehydration.

Gum Disease

If you have gum disease, you could also have diabetes. In fact, according to the CDC, diabetics are twice as likely to develop severe gum disease as those without diabetes. One recent study even found that one in five participants with advanced gum disease also had diabetes and didn’t even know it!  Even more troubling? Just as diabetes can make gum disease worse, gum disease has been shown to negatively affect glucose levels, putting patients at an even greater risk for serious complications.

Excessive Cavities

Just like that extra glucose can build up in your saliva and cause bad breath, it can also increase the number of cavities you develop.

The good news is that with regular oral exams, your dentist may be able to spot the warning signs of diabetes before they worsen. This is even more reason to make sure you are visiting the dentist at least once (but ideally twice) a year, brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day. If Dr. George suspects a patient may be diabetic or pre-diabetic due to any conditions present in the mouth during an exam, she will refer you to your general practitioner or an endocrinologist for further testing.

If you suspect your oral health problems may be caused by diabetes, or if you need to schedule an appointment for a dental exam, please give Dr. George’s office a call at 724-934-3422.

Dr. Alexandra S. George

Medically reviewed by Dr. Alexandra S. George - D.D.S., L.Vl.I.F. on December 7th, 2017