Maintaining a Healthy Smile

By Eileen B. Wyner, NP
Bulfinch Medical Group 

I really don’t like going to the dentist.  It doesn’t matter what the appointment is for or how often the dentist readjusts the chair back, I always get a stiff neck.  But, I consider the regular dental visit a necessary evil because I’m vain and don’t want to loose my teeth. For people living with Diabetes, routine dental visits are about more than appearance:  it is about keeping yourself free of additional health complications. 

People with Diabetes are more susceptible to developing periodontal disease, fungus infections, tooth decay, and dry mouth and may have a greater risk of heart and kidney disease versus people without Diabetes.  Diabetes makes it harder for the body, including your gums, to fight off or heal from infections. Control of your Diabetes may be compromised due to infection and this may affect your overall A1C results. Let’s go over some specifics so you can understand the importance of good tooth care.

Periodontal disease (PD) is an infection that damages the bone and gums around your teeth and is the most common oral problem in people with Diabetes. High glucose levels in the fluid around the teeth and under the gums increase the chance of having PD. Gingivitis is a type of PD where bacteria builds up between the teeth and gums and leads to inflammation. This inflammation may increase your risk of heart disease. If untreated, gingivitis may progress to periodontitis, in which the gums begin to pull away from the teeth and pockets form between teeth and gums. These pockets fill with bacteria and pus and get deeper; the bone that surrounds your teeth starts to get soft; the teeth may get loose and move around and may even fall out. Gum surgery is necessary at this point to treat this condition. 

It’s important to see the dentist twice a year for regular care and, depending on your situation, you may need to be seen more frequently. If you notice any changes in your mouth or teeth, let your dentist know. Things like bleeding gums with brushing, any loosening of your teeth, signs of gum recession, changes in your bite or any mouth sores are all possible symptoms of PD and your dentist needs to know about them. If you develop pain, swelling, or fever this may signal a tooth abscess and you need to be seen urgently. Brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss daily. Some medications can make you more likely to develop thrush so more frequent brushing may be needed. 

Disliking the dentist isn’t the only reason many are infrequent patients. A huge barrier to care is financial. Dental insurance is expensive and not readily available to all.  Even when one has it, there are many procedures that are not covered. If you are in need of dental financial assistance, I suggest trying the dental schools in the state as many offer greatly reduced prices for all procedures. 

Think about the last time you saw the dentist and set up an appointment. It will help you not only look great, but maintain good health.