Safeguard your smile with these tips from the experts
Brush up on your technique
Always use a soft-bristled toothbrush, drawing small circles over the surface of each tooth as you brush. This action sweeps away food and plaque (that mucky bio-film of bacteria) from your gums and the gaps between your teeth, where it can otherwise build up and cause gum disease.
Don’t forget to floss
Daily flossing is essential for good oral health, as brushing alone can’t sweep away the plaque that builds up in those hard-to-reach spaces between teeth and under gums. Plaque causes gum disease, firstly with the onset of gingivitis and then periodontitis, damaging soft tissue around the teeth and destroying the bone holding them in place. Flossing can also have additional benefits for people with diabetes. This is because impaired immunity and restricted blood flow to small vessels in the mouth can put them at greater risk of gum disease, leading to tooth loss or hard-to-shift mouth infections.
Keep your blood glucose stable
Poor blood glucose control leads to a high level of sugar in your saliva as well as your bloodstream. The bacteria in your mouth love sugar and, as they metabolise it, they produce acid, which in turn eats away at your tooth enamel, creating cavities in which bacteria make themselves at home. There, they continue to feast, produce more acid and… you get the gappy picture.
When your blood sugar goes on the rampage, you get a dry mouth, right? The toughness of your tooth enamel depends on it being bathed constantly with saliva, to maintain normal pH levels (it neutralises the acid produced by bacteria) and provide a calcium-rich solution that keeps enamel hard and healthy. If you do get a dry mouth, make sure you’re drinking plenty of water (fluoridated tap water is best), and rinse your mouth frequently. Sucking on sugar-free pastilles can also stimulate saliva production.
Stub out the smokes
Smoking puts you at a much higher risk – about 20 times greater than nonsmokers with diabetes – of developing gum disease and oral thrush, a painful, irritating fungal infection that may prevent you from eating regularly. Speak with your GP or pharmacist for advice about quitting.
Treat ulcers with TLC
A mouth ulcer occurs when some of the delicate tissue that lines the inside of your mouth is lost – through a misplaced bite, rubbing of a sharp tooth, scalding by hot food or drink and so on. Apart from the infection risk, the discomfort caused can prevent you eating properly and upset your blood glucose levels. Best treatment? Skip acidic foods (such as pineapple) and spicy dishes for a few days, rinse your mouth frequently with warm salty water and apply a pain-relieving gel if necessary.
Make an appointment
Seeing your dentist at least twice yearly for a dental clean and check-up will help keep problems at bay. According to Dr Derek Lewis, head of the Oral Health Committee of the Australian Dental Association, your mouth is the canary in the coalmine of your general health, of how you’re managing your blood glucose levels, and of any complications that may arise from your diabetes. So getting the nod from your dentist as they clean and inspect your bite is like achieving a gold standard. Enjoy it!
Dunk the dentures
Full or partial dentures should be taken out at night, cleaned with a brush and immersed in denture disinfectant to remove bacteria and plaque. Also make sure you keep soft tissue in the mouth healthy and protect against bone loss (which can affect denture retention) by gently brushing gums and regularly using mouthwash.