While diabetes can wreak havoc on the whole body, it can also cause major oral health problems. This problem is particularly severe when blood sugar levels are poorly controlled. Uncontrolled diabetes weakens white blood cells—the body’s main defense against bacterial infections in the mouth.
Specific health problems faced by diabetics include:
Dry mouth – If diabetes is uncontrolled, the flow of saliva can decrease, resulting in dry mouth. This condition can further lead to ulcers, soreness, infections, and tooth decay.
Gingivitis and periodontitis – Diabetes causes blood vessels to thicken which inhibits the ability of the body to fight infections. Since periodontal disease is a bacterial infection, uncontrolled diabetes can lead to more frequent and severe gum disease.
Poor healing of oral tissues – Blood flow to a treatment site can be damaged when diabetes is uncontrolled leading to slow healing after oral surgery or other dental procedures.
Thrush – The fungus that causes thrush thrives on the high sugar levels in the saliva of people with uncontrolled diabetes. Diabetics who frequently take antibiotics are particularly prone to developing thrush.
Burning mouth and tongue – Thrush can also cause this condition.
Smokers with diabetes are at an even higher risk. Their risk of periodontal disease and thrush is up to 20 times greater than that of nonsmokers. Smoking can also impair blood flow to the gums which can affect wound healing in this area.
If your patient has diabetes, you should get the name and phone number of their doctor or endocrinologist, so you can ask the professional questions about their health status. It is particularly important to talk to their doctor if oral surgery is planned. Also make sure to get a list of all of their medications. And if they are smokers, stress the need to quit!