These days, it’s safe to say that most of us have heard of diabetes. And we know that it has a definite effect on day-to-day, overall health. But did you know that there’s also a specific connection between diabetes and teeth? It’s true, diabetes and oral health are closely linked. But before we dive into that, let’s first cover some diabetes basics.
WHAT IS DIABETES?
With diabetes, the body has trouble regulating blood sugar, also called “glucose.” You either can’t produce insulin or you can’t properly use the insulin you make. (Quick reminder, insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas that regulates your blood sugar.)
TYPES OF DIABETES
There are three types of diabetes: Type 1, 2, and gestational diabetes. The first two are long-term, while gestational diabetes happens only during pregnancy.
Type 1 Diabetes – Type 1 is an auto-immune disease and is generally developed and diagnosed in the childhood or teen years. Type 1 diabetes means the body isn’t able to produce its own insulin because the body is attacking the pancreas. Since we’re pediatric dentists, Type 1 diabetes is what we most often see at Kids Mile High.
Type 2 Diabetes – This kind is typically diagnosed in adulthood. Unlike Type 1 diabetes, with Type 2 the body is able to produce its own insulin, but is unable to regulate it properly or it doesn’t make enough of it. The majority of diabetics have Type 2 diabetes.
Gestational Diabetes – Between 3%-30% of pregnant women develop this. Risk factors include family history, obesity, or having it during a previous pregnancy. Gestational diabetes may increase the likelihood of both mom and child getting diabetes later in life.
HOW DOES DIABETES AFFECT YOUR ORAL HEALTH?
Now that we’ve covered the basics, what does the connection between diabetes and teeth look like? You could say that diabetes and oral health have a reciprocal relationship — too much glucose in the bloodstream can cause teeth issues, and, conversely, severe gum or teeth issues can affect your diabetes.
TYPE 1 DIABETES AND TEETH
At Kids Mile High, we see firsthand how Type 1 diabetes affects kids and their teeth. Diligent oral health is hard enough at the best of times for kids, but put together Type 1 diabetes and teeth? Your kids become even more susceptible to issues like cavities and gum disease.
For everyone, sugar-loving oral bacteria feeds off the sugars from food. Acid is created from this feeding frenzy which can then damage teeth. So it’s saliva’s job to wash away the sugars, neutralize the acid, and help bring down the mouth’s pH level. But if your kiddo has diabetes, their saliva might have too much glucose, which can promote more bacteria instead of fighting against it.
High blood sugar is also not kind to the immune system. It’s harder for your child to fight back against pathogens — like oral bacteria.
All in all, this leaves diabetic kids more vulnerable to oral issues like:
- Tooth decay and cavities
- Gum inflammation (gingivitis)
- Gum disease (periodontitis)
Diabetes and tooth decay – Because kids with diabetes are more likely to have higher sugar levels in their mouth, they have to work extra hard to brush and floss effectively against tooth decay. Plaque that’s stuck to teeth can demineralize enamel and dentin, leading to kids’ tooth decay and cavities.
Diabetes and gum inflammation – With Type 1 diabetes and teeth, a tell-tale sign of poor oral health is inflamed gums. Does your kiddo have red, swollen, or bleeding gums? If so, we suggest making an appointment right away at Kids Mile High. Dr. Paddy, Dr. Roger, or Dr. Meredith can examine your kid’s teeth to see how severe their gum inflammation is and suggest a plan to prevent it from turning into gum disease.
Diabetes and gum disease – Gum disease is not only an infection in the gums, but can also affect the teeth and underlying bone. For kids, gum disease is an especially serious issue since their teeth, gums, and bones are still developing. Having diabetes and gum disease can mean a longer healing time too but, rest assured, gum disease treatment is possible.
Gum disease has also been shown to affect overall health, including making diabetes worse. A study shared by the American Dental Association explained that some of the germs in infected gums can leak into the bloodstream through activities like chewing or brushing your teeth. This kick starts a reaction in the body’s defense system resulting in changes like raising blood sugar.
TEETH-FRIENDLY TIPS WHEN YOUR CHILD HAS DIABETES
Your Denver-area pediatric dentists are confident that our young patients can conquer anything. So if our little superheroes happen to have Type 1 diabetes, we know they can still have healthy teeth.
Here are a few suggestions from your Denver pediatric dentists for diabetes and teeth:
Tip #1: Make sure your child has regular dental exams
Schedule at least two check ups for your kids every year and be sure to update us on how your child’s diabetes is doing. The more info, the better! And even if you or your child don’t see any signs of a dental problem, our team can spot any early symptoms and suggest prevention or treatment.
Tip #2: Create a solid oral hygiene plan
Even though diabetes and oral health can be a challenging combination, a great oral hygiene routine goes a long way. Make sure your child flosses once a day and brushes well at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush. Let them pick out their own toothbrush and toothpaste to make oral care more fun and personal.
If they’re old enough, a kids-safe mouthwash helps. And if flossing is daunting for your kids, try easy-to-use floss picks.
Tip #3: Be careful with sugar
We don’t have to say this one twice! Understandably, it’s hard for kids to stay away from sugar 100% of the time… they’re kids! But working with your child to plan out their sugar do’s and don’ts helps keep them on-track and you in-the-know.
COME FOR FUN DENTAL CARE AT KIDS MILE HIGH!
If you’re concerned about your child’s Type 1 diabetes and their teeth, we’re here to give your child the top-notch dental care they need. And they’ll have fun too!
Schedule an appointment today at our Englewood, Thornton, or Central Park office.