More than a half-million people in Los Angeles County have diabetes. When a person with diabetes can't control their blood sugar well, serious health problems can occur throughout the body, including in the mouth, says Dr. Piedad Suarez, a dentist at the Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC.
"Many patients know about diabetes' big health risks, such as heart and eye problems. But they often don't know that it's also a risk for infection and losing teeth," Dr. Suarez says.
Patients with high blood sugar are more likely to develop painful infections and severe gum disease, she says. Any injuries or surgeries in the mouth will also take longer than normal to heal if the glucose is not well controlled.
Dentists can often tell when patients with diabetes are having trouble with their blood sugar by how their mouth looks, Dr. Suarez adds. Warning signs of serious gum disease include:
‘«ů Gums are red, swollen, or painful
‘«ů Gums have pulled away from the tooth
‘«ů Loose permanent teeth
‘«ů Bad breath
‘«ů Gums bleed or have pus after flossing or brushing
To prevent or heal gum disease, a person with diabetes should first work with their doctor to better control their blood sugar. Eating better, changing diabetes medicines, and more frequent blood testing may be needed.
Diabetic patients may need to see their dentist more often, especially if they have gum disease. Patients should tell their dentist about their diabetes, their medicines, and what their most recent blood sugar and A1C levels have been, Dr. Suarez says. They should bring their glucometer and test their blood sugar before their dental appointment, she adds.
Dentists can help patients be sure they're brushing and flossing at least twice a day in the right way. They may also give patients advice on eating well and exercising or recommend special dental products.
"Everyone, especially patients with diabetes, should have good oral hygiene habits if they want to prevent serious dental problems, and sometimes use special fluorides or mouthwashes," Dr. Suarez says.
Faculty and students of the Ostrow School of Dentistry will be providing mouth screenings and health information at the Feria de Salud, a community health fair sponsored by the American Diabetes Association. The event takes place on November 10, 2013 from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM at the Olvera Street Plaza in downtown Los Angeles.
The Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC offers low-cost dental care to children and adults. To learn more, please visit dentistry.usc.edu/patient-care or call (213) 740-2805.