The number of patients diagnosed with diabetes has jumped nearly 50% in the past 10 years, and it is expected to grow another 165 percent by 2050 under current trends, according to the American Diabetes Association. The medical burden of diabetes and its complications can be overwhelming, and oral health care often falls low on the list of health priorities for diabetics.
In fact, many individuals may not be aware of how diabetes impacts oral health. Having diabetes increases your susceptibility to gum disease, particularly for people who have a hard time controlling their blood sugar. At the same time, studies have shown that having gum disease may make it harder to control your blood sugar.
The early stage of gum disease, known as gingivitis, is characterized by red, puffy gums that bleed when you brush, floss, or use other oral care aids. Bleeding swollen gums is a sign of infection. Gum disease can progress and eventually lead to tooth loss, which can make it more difficult to eat the right foods.
Many individuals do not even know they have the early stages of gum disease. So it's particularly important for people with diabetes to have regular dental visits and to follow a good oral health routine at home. Preventing gum disease can save time, money, and discomfort.
The good news is that maintaining an optimal self-care routine for your teeth and gums can be easy. People with diabetes should start by talking to their dentist. Sharing medical history, including current medications, level of glycemic control, and complications from diabetes along with other health information, allows you and your dentist to map out the most appropriate self-care program.
In addition to regularly visiting and communicating with your dentist and brushing and flossing daily, there are three easy things you can do on your own to improve your gum health and overall well being.
Fend off a plaque attack with a Dental Water Jet
A study conducted by University of Buffalo researchers in 2002 shows that people with diabetes who added the Waterpik Dental Water Jet to their self-care routine had a 23 percent reduction in plaque, a 20 percent reduction in gingivitis and a 13 percent reduction in bleeding compared to people who only brushed and flossed.
"Of all the oral self-care products available, the dental water jet has the longest and best track record of reducing gingivitis and bleeding," says Carol Jahn, a registered dental hygienist and manager of educational programs at Waterpik Technologies.
The dental water jet delivers a unique combination of water pressure and pulsation at the level clinically proved safe and effective, and it cleans three times deeper than brushing and flossing alone. Waterpik recently introduced a sleek cordless model, so now it's easy to travel and carry a dental water jet with you in a vanity bag.
Chew sugar-free chewing gum
Many individuals with diabetes suffer from dry mouth, which can be caused by certain medications and high blood sugar levels. A dry mouth can increase your risk of cavities and mouth infections, because there's less saliva to wash away germs.
To increase the saliva in the mouth, stay hydrated and try chewing sugar-free gum. TheraBreath Oxygenating chewing gum, developed by celebrity dentist Dr. Harold Katz, founder of the California Breath Clinics, counters dry mouth and bad breath while also helping whiten your teeth.
"I've used Xylitol as a sweetener, instead of sugar or Aspartame (Nutrasweet) like so many other chewing gums," says Dr. Katz. "It is a sugar alcohol, which makes it safe for diabetics because the body doesn't react to sugar alcohols the same way that it does to sucrose or glucose."
Smoking increases your risk for gum disease. Both the American Diabetes Association and American Dental Hygienists' Association strongly advocate that individuals with diabetes stop smoking.
Smokers with diabetes over age 45 are 20 times as likely to develop severe gum disease than a person without those risk factors, according to researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Smokers also face another risk. "Smokers may have an impaired response to gum inflammation," says Jahn. "Nicotine often masks the signs of periodontal disease, especially bleeding."
Although diabetes will continue to be a challenge for millions of Americans, self-care continues to become easier and more effective. For more information about self-care products, visit
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