Health Team

Diabetes places teeth at risk

Diabetics face a variety of health concerns. Even their teeth are at risk for more diseases.

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Diabetics face a variety of health concerns. Even their teeth are at risk for more diseases.

Gary Howard, 64, has dry mouth, a condition linked to his type 2 diabetes that makes dental visits more important.

“It could cause bacteria to stay on your teeth because you don't have the saliva and everything to keep it flushed off," Howard said.

Dry mouth can cause more cavities and other dental issues, said Dr. Janet Southerland, with the University of North Carolina of Dentistry.

"They are at higher risk – about two times higher risk than most folks of developing gum disease," Southerland said.

Gum disease can lead to losing teeth, and wounds in the mouth might not heal well.

The good news for Howard and other diabetics is that they can prevent these problems.

"The first thing is that they should brush and floss daily," Southerland said.

Diabetics should also manage their blood sugar levels.

"We have our patients bring their glucometers to their appointment, so we can evaluate how a patient is doing," Southerland said.

For dry mouth, there are medications that can help generate more saliva, but Howard is trying other methods.

"I drink water to solve that problem – and I do chew sugar free gum," Howard said. He also tries throat lozenges and diet drinks.

Awareness is a big issue for preventing dental and other health problems from diabetes, Southerland said. There are 24 million Americans with the disease, but an estimated 5.7 million of them don't know they have it.



Allen Mask, M.D., Reporter
Rick Armstrong, Photographer
Anne Johnson, Web Editor

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