Gum Disease And Diabetes: A Primer

Infection can be more than skin deep.

Charles W Martin By Charles W Martin, DDS
Founder, DentistryForDiabetics.com

Links between diabetes and gum disease are now making their way into the mainstream media, thanks to more and more recent research into the two-way connections between these twin health threats. As you read more and see more about gum disease and its interactions with diabetes, it may help to know exactly what you're up against.

After all, a combination that both sabotages your metabolic management and increases your risks for potentially life-threatening catastrophic health events – in some cases by almost exponential odds – is something that demands close attention of everyone who has diabetes.

What Is Periodontitis?

Put in its most simple terms, periodontitis is gum disease. The literal meaning of the word ‘periodontal' is straightforward – ‘peri' means ‘around', and ‘dont' means ‘tooth'. So, periodontal refers to the parts of your mouth that surround your tooth.

The word ‘periodontitis' refers to the diseases that affect these parts of your mouth. These are generally bacterial infections that attack the gums and other oral components.

While periodontitis is generally used to refer to gum disease, there are other parts of your mouth that are considered part of your periodontal structures. These include the bone that supports your teeth and the tissues that connect your teeth to the bone.

Periodontal diseases take several forms, including these common types.

Gingivitisis a mild form of gum disease. You may hear dental health professionals refer to the ‘gingiva'. That's the clinical term for your gums. Gingivitis often develops when plaque builds up on your teeth at the gumline and irritates the gum. The irritation makes it easier for bacteria to infect gum tissue. The infection inflames the gum, which can then become red, swell up around your teeth, and bleed easily. Gingivitis is easily treated. If you let gingivitis go untreated, it can turn into periodontitis.

Aggressive periodontitis happens in otherwise healthy people who have a bacterial infection in their gums that continues to worsen until it destroys the supporting bone and your teeth begin to loosen.

Chronic periodontitis is more severe. Bone loss and loosening gets worse, the gums pull away from your teeth and pockets can form around your teeth where the gum used to be. This traps even more plaque and bacteria, which just adds more fuel to the fire.

Necrotizing periodontitis is as bad as it sounds. This is a condition in which parts of your gum, bone and connective tissues can actually die.

As apocryphal as all this may seem, there is a silver lining. A dentist who understands the links between gum disease and diabetes can stop and, in many cases, even reverse the effects that periodontitis can have on your metabolic management. The ideal situation is preventing it in the first place or catching it early.

Even if you have more severe gum disease, dental science now has some amazing new treatment techniques – such as those using the body's own growth factors – that can speed healing and enable procedures such as implantation that previously may not have been advisable for some people who have diabetes.

For more information about dental care for people who have diabetes, visit http://www.dentistryfordiabetics.com and Dr. Martin's blog, http://www.dentistryfordiabetics.com/blog.

To learn more about the two-way connection between diabetes and gum disease, check out the other columns here on dLife or Dr. Martin's book, Don't Sugar Coat It.

Read Dr. Charles Martin's bio here.

Read more of Dr. Martin's columns.

NOTE: The information is not intended to be a replacement or substitute for consultation with a qualified medical professional or for professional medical advice related to diabetes or another medical condition. Please contact your physician or medical professional with any questions and concerns about your medical condition. 

Last Modified Date: July 01, 2013

All content on dLife.com is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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by Brenda Bell
Many people say that depression is a side effect or complication of diabetes. Without discounting the association of the psychological condition with the physical one, I'm not convinced that our high and/or unstable glucose levels are directly responsible for that change in our mental state. My belief is that the unrelenting need for self-care, for following the sort of care schedules that can drive licensed, professional caregivers crazy, is what overwhelms us...
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