Oral, dental abnormalities can signal onset of metabolic disease
Your mouth has been feeling a bit dry, or food doesn’t seem as tasty as usual. Or you feel jabs of pain in your teeth when biting into something sweet. Or your tongue has patches of red or green.
If you’re experiencing any of the above problems, you might be one of an estimated 5.7 million people in the United States with undiagnosed diabetes mellitus.
Abnormalities on the teeth, gums, tongue, or mucous linings inside your mouth are a common manifestation of diabetes. A dentist can detect these problems during a routine checkup and refer you to a primary care physician for diagnosis and diabetes management.
Oral warning signs
Uncontrolled diabetes destroys white blood cells that combat bacterial infections in the mouth and elsewhere. Over time, diabetes can break down gums, periodontal tissues, dental pulp, bone, and oral soft tissues.
During your checkup or cleaning, tell your dentist if you’ve noticed:
• tongue inflammation
• inflammation in the mucous linings of the cheeks, gums, lips, throat, or roof or floor of the mouth
• dry mouth or “cotton mouth”
• rapidly worsening gum inflammation; this could be gingivitis
• a creamy coating on the tongue. This could signal oral candidiasis, commonly known as thrush
• burning sensation on the lips, tongue, or throughout the mouth
• dulled sense of taste. A frequent craving for sweets combined with dulled taste could be another warning sign. (One study suggests that, just before diabetes symptoms develop, patients with blunted taste strongly prefer sweet-tasting foods.)
Recurrent cavities, abscess, or other effects of tooth decay also can signal diabetes.
Smoking can exacerbate diabetes-related oral problems. Researchers believe smoking restricts blood flow to the gums, which can impair wound healing.
If you are diagnosed
If you are diagnosed with type 1 or 2 diabetes, preventive dental care can prevent oral complications:
• Have your dentist clean and check your gums and teeth at least twice a year.
• Brushing your teeth after every meal and flossing at least once daily can stall or prevent diabetes-related tooth decay.
• And if you smoke, ask your dentist or primary care physician about smoking cessation options.
Notify your dentist immediately about any abnormalities inside your mouth—such as red, swollen or bleeding gums, loose teeth, mouth pain, or dry-mouth sensation.
Good glucose control also is essential to preventing oral complications of diabetes. The more well controlled the blood glucose, the lower the risk.