What many don’t know is that there is an established two-way relationship between diabetes and oral health. Picture: Pexels / Anna Shvets
What many don’t know is that there is an established two-way relationship between diabetes and oral health. Picture: Pexels / Anna Shvets

World Diabetes Day: Diabetes and dental care - what is the connection?

By Viwe Ndongeni-Ntlebi Time of article published Nov 14, 2021

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The dentist may not be the first medical professional you’d associate with diabetes, but there is a powerful link between diabetes and oral health. Proactive oral care can reduce your risk of developing diabetes and it’s essential for living well with diabetes.

An estimated 12.9% of the adult population either have type 1 or type 2 diabetes while a significant number of people might be undiagnosed, according to the International Diabetes Federation.

The Federation adds that by 2035, almost 600 million people would be living with diabetes, and the figure would rise to 642 million by 2040.

November is Diabetes Awareness Month and 14 November is World Diabetes Day. Organizations and health professionals are raising awareness about the disease and how to prevent it

In South Africa, the number of SA adults with diabetes has soared to more than 4.5 million people. What many don’t know is that there is an established two-way relationship between diabetes and oral health.

Diabetes affects the body’s ability to process sugar and higher glucose levels in your saliva put you at higher risk of bleeding gums, cavities, gum disease and bad breath.

In addition to the sugar issue, an estimated 42% of people with diabetes experience dry mouth, medically known as xerostomia, which is another risk factor for several dental health issues. People with diabetes can also tend to have a lower resistance to infection and heal more slowly, which can also further exacerbate gum problems.

At the same time, people with gum disease have been shown to have poorer blood sugar control and are at higher risk of various diabetes-related complications as a result. People with periodontitis, a more severe form of gum disease, are also more likely to become type 2 diabetic.

Dirna Grobbelaar, oral hygiene advisor for Sunstar GUM, has put together an easy-to-follow daily oral care routine to help children and adults with diabetes protect their oral health and general well-being.

Sunstar GUM has globally supported research on the relationship between diabetes and oral health for more than 30 years, inspired by the company’s founder, Kunio Kaneda, who lived with the condition.

“A meticulous daily oral care routine is the best way to prevent most oral health problems and is even more important if you have diabetes,” said Grobbelaar. “A healthy mouth can be as simple as 1, 2, 3.”

1. Brush: The most important part of a daily oral care routine is to brush the teeth correctly at least twice a day. Brush for two minutes each time, cleaning every tooth with a gentle, circular motion. Use either a manual brush or a power brush with soft bristles. Brushing too hard can damage your gums.

2. Clean in-between: Daily interdental cleaning is critical to remove plaque from between the teeth and under the gumline. Use floss or another interdental tool like Sunstar GUM interdental brushes and Soft-Picks Advanced. If you’re not sure which tool or size to choose, ask your dental professional.

3. Rinse: To reach areas that brushing and floss can’t reach, rinse with an alcohol-free mouthwash for extra confidence.

“In addition to your daily 1, 2, 3 routine, people with diabetes should partner up with their dental professional to help them maintain a healthy mouth,” added Grobbelaar.

She recommends scheduling an appointment with the dentist as soon as possible after being given a diabetes diagnosis, then going for regular check-ups and professional cleanings, ideally every six months or more often. “Remind your dentist that you have diabetes each time you visit.”

Grobbelaar says that although meticulous oral care is more important for people with diabetes, it doesn’t have to be more complicated.

“With an effective daily routine, the right tools and professional support people with diabetes can easily maintain a beautiful smile and live well.”

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