THE AMERICAN DIABETES ASSOCIATION estimates that 23.1 million Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes (whether it be type 1, type 2, or gestational). Of those, 200,000 are under the age of twenty, and these numbers don’t account for undiagnosed cases. But what does diabetes have to do with your child’s oral health? Unfortunately, quite a lot.
Diabetes And Gum Disease
Diabetes is a chronic disease that either means the pancreas doesn’t produce insulin (type 1) or that the body doesn’t use it effectively (type 2 and gestational), both of which cause elevated blood glucose. The most serious impact elevated blood glucose has on oral health is that it simultaneously weakens the immune system and provides more food for the bacteria that attack teeth and gums.
This two-pronged attack is why 22% of diabetics also have gum disease, whether in the early stages of inflammation (gingivitis) or in the advanced stages (periodontitis) that threaten the teeth, gums, and supporting bone. The bacteria that causes gum disease can also travel through the bloodstream and make it even harder to regulate blood sugar.
In addition to increasing the risk of gingivitis and periodontitis, uncontrolled diabetes can also lead to a variety of other oral health problems, such as:
- Dry mouth
- Burning mouth syndrome
- Impaired or slower healing
- Increased severity and frequency of infections
- Fungal infections
- Salivary gland enlargement
How Parents Can Help
Now for the good news: even with diabetes, good oral health is within reach. Even better: keeping your child’s teeth and gums healthy will also make their diabetes easier to manage! Encourage them to brush twice a day for two minutes with a soft-bristled brush and fluoride toothpaste, floss daily or use a water flosser or interdental brush, and maybe even use a non-alcoholic mouthwash. Carefully regulating their sugar intake is a major factor as well.
The Dentist’s Role
If your child has diabetes, the standard two dental exams per year may not be enough. To stay on the safe side, we recommend that you increase their number of yearly visits to three or four. It is also crucial for us to know how you and your child’s doctor are working together to keep their diabetes under control. Likewise, your doctor needs to know how we are working with you and your child to keep their teeth and gums healthy.