Diabetes and Gum Disease

Gum infection caused by diabetes

It is well documented that people who suffer from diabetes are more susceptible to developing infections than non-diabetes sufferers. It is not widely known that periodontal (gum) disease is often considered the sixth complication of diabetes, particularly when the diabetes is not under proper control.

Periodontal disease (often called periodontitis or gum disease) is a progressive condition that often leads to tooth loss if treatment is not promptly sought. Periodontal disease begins with a bacterial infection in the gingival tissue that surrounds the teeth. As the bacteria colonise, the gum pockets become deeper, the gums recede as tissue is destroyed and the periodontitis eventually attacks the underlying bone tissue.

Diabetes is characterised by too much glucose (or sugar) in the blood. Type 2 diabetics are unable to regulate insulin levels, which means excess glucose stays in the blood. Type 1 diabetics do not produce any insulin at all. Diabetes is a serious condition that can lead to heart disease and stroke.

Reasons for the connection

Experts suggest the relationship between diabetes and periodontal disease can worsen both conditions if either condition is not properly controlled.

Here are ways in which diabetes and periodontal disease are linked:

  • Increased blood sugar – Moderate and severe periodontal disease elevates sugar levels in the body, increasing the amount of time the body has to function with high blood sugar. This is why diabetics with periodontitis have difficulty keeping control of their blood sugar. In addition, the higher sugar levels found in the mouth of diabetics provide food for the very bacteria that worsen periodontal infections.
  • Blood vessel thickening – The thickening of the blood vessels is one of the other major concerns for diabetes sufferers. The blood vessels normally serve a vital function for tissues by delivering nutrients and removing waste products. With diabetes, the blood vessels become too thick for these exchanges to occur. This means that harmful waste is left in the mouth and can weaken the resistance of gum tissue, which can lead to infection and gum disease.
  • Smoking – Tobacco use does a great deal of damage in the oral region. Not only does tobacco use slow the healing process, it also vastly increases the chances of an individual developing periodontal disease. For diabetics who smoke, the risk is exponentially greater. In fact, diabetic smokers aged 45 and over are 20 times more likely to develop periodontal disease.
  • Poor oral hygiene – It is essential for diabetics to maintain excellent levels of oral health. When daily brushing and flossing does not occur, the harmful oral bacteria can ingest the excess sugar between the teeth and colonise more freely below the gum line. This exacerbates the metabolic problems that diabetes sufferers experience.
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