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According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diabetes affects nearly 24 million people in the United States. The Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) encourages those with diabetes to pay extra attention to their oral health. Studies have shown that those with diabetes are more susceptible to the development of oral infections and periodontal (gum) disease than those who do not have diabetes. In addition, oral infections tend to be more severe in people with diabetes than in those who do not have the condition.
"We urge individuals with diabetes to take care of their mouths and have dental infections treated immediately," says AGD spokesperson E. Mac Edington, DDS, MAGD, ABGD. "People who receive good dental care and have good insulin control typically have a better chance at avoiding gum disease."
Because diabetes reduces the body's resistance to infection, the gums are at risk for gingivitis, an inflammation usually caused by the presence of bacteria in plaque. Plaque is the sticky film that accumulates on teeth both above and below the gum line.
"Without regular dental checkups, gum disease may result if gingivitis is left untreated. Gingivitis also can cause inflammation and destruction of tissues surrounding and supporting teeth," says Dr. Edington. To prevent problems with bacterial infections in the mouth, a dentist may prescribe antibiotics, medicated mouthrinses, and more frequent cleanings to a patient with diabetes.
The established connection between oral health and systemic health suggests that diet and exercise may be the most important changes that people with diabetes can make to improve their quality of life and oral health. People with diabetes should be sure that their medical and dental care providers are aware of their medical history and periodontal status. To keep teeth and gums strong, people with diabetes should be aware of their blood sugar levels and have their triglycerides and cholesterol levels checked on a regular basis, as these factors may have a direct correlation with their risk for gum disease.
"People with diabetes who do not have good control over their blood sugar levels tend to have more oral health problems," says Dr. Edington. "If your blood sugar is not under control, talk with both your dentist and physician about the possibility of receiving dental treatment beyond routine checkups and cleanings."
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