What Your Teeth are Telling You: Your Smile Could Show Signs of Diabetes and Other Health Risks

Diabetes dental treatment isn't a phrase many people are used to hearing, but it's true that regular dental checkups and taking care of diabetes dental problems like red, swollen gums or receding gums, can be one way to help with controlling diabetes.

In a December 2011 Wall Street Journal article entitled If Your Teeth Could Talk, health experts outlined how your teeth, gums and even lips are early indicators of health issues elsewhere in your body, including diabetes dental problems. This article speaks out on a topic that First Choice Dental dentists and hygienists are very familiar with and share with patients on a daily basis. You're not truly healthy unless your smile is healthy.

Diabetes affects almost 24 million Americans each year and can result in diabetes dental problems. In fact, diabetes dental problems can actually worsen or even cause diabetes if left untreated. If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with diabetes, you probably know it can cause problems with eye health or increase risks associated kidney or heart disease. But did you know that diabetes can cause diabetes dental problems, including serious gum disease? These issues can also be your first warning signs to signal when diabetes is present or not being properly controlled.

According to Dr. Joe Sharkus, a dentist with First Choice Dental Group, the most common diabetes dental problems are:

  • tooth decay
  • gum disease (periodontal disease)
  • dry mouth and salivary gland dysfunction
  • mouth and gum infections and delayed healing

Dr. Sharkus explains, "When diabetes is not controlled properly, high glucose levels in saliva may help promote bacteria, causing more plaque and tartar, which will eventually create conditions that lead to chronic inflammation and infection in the mouth."

He notes that patients with diabetes and struggle with diabetes dental problems are at an increased risk for serious gum disease because they are more susceptible to bacterial infection, and have a decreased ability to fight the bacteria that invades their gums. He adds, "Simply put, patients who do not have good blood sugar control often experience more gum disease and lose more teeth than people who have good control of their diabetes."

Because some oral health issues can often be the first warning signs of uncontrolled diabetes, Sharkus suggests that you see your dentist immediately if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • gums that bleed easily
  • red, swollen, tender gums
  • gums that have pulled away from teeth
  • pus between teeth and gums
  • persistent bad breath or bad taste in mouth
  • permanent teeth that are loose or separating
  • any changes in the way your teeth "fit" when you bite.

Sharkus notes, "Gum disease can be painless but serious, so it's important to pay attention to these signals and to see your dentist regularly." He recalls, "Our hygienist noticed severe pocketing (where gums pull away from teeth and catches food and bacteria between teeth and gum tissue) in one of our patients, and suggested he see his physician. His wife called shortly after the appointment to thank us - her husband followed our hygienist's advice, went to his doctor and was diagnosed with diabetes."

The most important step to help prevent diabetes dental problems is to control blood glucose level and take good care of your teeth and gums. Regular check-ups, cleanings, and periodontal screenings play an important role in maintaining your good health as you manage your diabetes.

As the Wall Street Journal article entitled If Your Teeth Could Talk explains, diabetes is just one of the many health concerns that can first be detected in your smile, and controlled with regular dental checkups and good dental health care.