If you have periodontal (gum) disease, you probably already know you’re in danger of eventual tooth and bone loss if the infection isn’t brought under control. But if you also have diabetes, the effects from gum disease could extend well beyond your mouth.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection caused by plaque, a film of food remnant that builds up on tooth surfaces mainly due to poor oral hygiene. As the infection grows, your body’s immune system responds by flooding your gum tissues with antibodies to fight it, resulting in inflammation. As the inflammation persists, though, it damages the gum and underlying bone tissue, which in turn leads to gum and bone loss from the teeth.
Diabetes also causes an inflammatory response within the body. The disease develops either as a result of the body’s decreased ability to produce insulin to balance the glucose (sugar) levels in the bloodstream (Type 1) or the body develops a resistance to insulin’s effects (Type 2). As a result diabetics experience abnormally high blood glucose levels, a condition called hyperglycemia. This triggers chronic inflammation that can lead to inhibited wound healing, increased risk of heart, kidney or eye disease, coma or death.
Gum disease can worsen diabetic inflammation, and vice versa. The effects of the oral infection add to the body’s already overloaded response to diabetes. In turn, the immune system is already compromised due to diabetes, which can then increase the severity of the gum disease.
Research and experience, though, have found that pursuing treatment and disease management for either condition has a positive effect on managing the other. Treating gum disease through plaque removal, antibiotic therapy, surgery (if needed) and renewed oral hygiene will diminish the oral infection and reduce the body’s immune response. Caring for diabetes through medication, diet, exercise and lifestyle changes like quitting smoking will in turn contribute to a quicker healing process for infected gum tissues.
Treating gum disease when you have diabetes calls for a coordinated approach on both fronts. By caring for both conditions you’ll have a more positive effect on your overall health.