Dispelling myths

Are people with diabetes at greater risk for dental cavities?

There are two schools of thought on this topic. One school believes that high glucose levels in the saliva of people with uncontrolled diabetes helps bacteria thrive. This leads to the development of caries and gum disease. Also, people with diabetes tend to eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. This increases the chance for bacteria to grow and cavities to develop.

The other school believes that people with diabetes know more about what to eat and the need to closely monitor their sugar intake. They don't eat many foods containing cavity-causing sugar.

The fact is that people whose diabetes is well-controlled have no more tooth decay or periodontal disease than people without diabetes. Good oral hygiene and good blood sugar control are the best protections against cavity formation and periodontal disease.

Do people with diabetes lose their teeth more often and sooner than people without diabetes?

Many factors play a role in the loss of teeth in people with diabetes. First, people with uncontrolled diabetes are more prone to the development of gingivitis and periodontal disease. If the infection persists, it can spread to the underlying bone that anchors the teeth. Complicating this situation is the fact that infections don’t resolve as quickly in people with diabetes.

The good news for people with diabetes is that by practicing good oral hygiene habits — brushing at least twice daily (or preferably after every meal) with a toothpaste that contains fluoride, flossing daily, and keeping blood sugar levels under control — the potential for infection from periodontal disease will be greatly reduced or eliminated, and so will the risk of tooth loss.

If I do need oral surgery, am I more at risk for problems, including infections, post-surgery simply because problems such as infections are more common in people with diabetes?

With close medical care and self-care that keeps blood sugar as close to normal as possible, and good personal and professional dental care, problems after surgery are no more likely in people with diabetes than in those without the disease.

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