Diabetes and Periodontal Disease: What You Need To Know About The Link

Have you ever spit your toothpaste out after brushing and noticed it was a little pinker than it should be?

Bleeding gums are not uncommon—about half of adults over 30 experience bleeding gums. It’s not something we should ignore because bleeding gums mean infected gums, and if not taken care of, that infection can spread.

People with diabetes are more likely to have periodontal disease, a serious gum infection. Once someone has periodontal disease, blood sugar is harder to control, and the two conditions feed off each other. Periodontal disease can spread and destroy the bones and ligaments that support the teeth, and eventually those teeth will have to go.

Here we’ll talk about how periodontal disease works and how to avoid it.

Photo: AdobeStock/ashtproductions
Photo: AdobeStock/ashtproductions

What is periodontal disease?

Bacteria in plaque causes periodontal disease, and plaque is hard to completely avoid because it’s formed when bacteria in your mouth combines with carbohydrates, food particles, and saliva. This cause a chemical reaction that forms plaque. Foods with more carbohydrates, such as sugary foods, are more likely to cause plaque. When plaque isn’t immediately brushed away, it sticks to the teeth.

When this plaque infects the gums, the body tries to clear the plaque by causing the gums to swell and become inflamed (similar to how it would respond if you had a cut that became infected). This swelling causes bleeding, and that’s a good sign that you may have gingivitis, the first stage of periodontal disease.

Photo: AdobeStock/estradaanton
Photo: AdobeStock/estradaanton

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If the disease progresses, the infection can spread below the gumline, where it can’t be brushed away. Bacteria will spread and inflammation will get worse. If not treated, the buildup of plaque causes the gums to swell and detach from the teeth and supporting bone, forming gaps. Plaque can grow more rampantly in these “pockets.” When plaque hardens, or calcifies, it turns into tartar. Tartar is easier for plaque to stick to and can build up and attract even more plaque and tartar.

Eventually, periodontal disease may destroy the supporting tooth structures and ligaments, and when the teeth have no support they will need to be removed.

Signs of the various stages of periodontal disease (from beginning gingivitis to advanced periodontitis) include swollen, tender, or bleeding gums, receding gums, persistent bad taste in the mouth or bad breath, and loose teeth.

Photo: AdobeStock/vladimirfloyd
Photo: AdobeStock/vladimirfloyd

Periodontal Disease and Diabetes

Unfortunately, people with diabetes are more susceptible to periodontal disease, so much so that it is sometimes considered a complication of the disease. The increased likelihood is probably a result of people with diabetes being more susceptible to infections.

Periodontal disease, in turn, makes it harder for people to control their blood sugar and keep their diabetes in check. Diabetes and periodontal disease are thought to be caused in part by enhanced inflammation caused by chronic high blood sugar and glycated proteins. This inflammation aggravates both conditions and makes both harder to control.

Good control of periodontal disease can improve blood sugar, so while the two conditions tend to complicate each other, controlling one can also help you control the other.

Photo: AdobeStock/thodonal
Photo: AdobeStock/thodonal

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