How Diabetes Affects Your Oral Health

Diabetes is a chronic health condition that impacts how the body uses or produces insulin, a hormone that enables the body to convert sugar (glucose) into energy. If diabetes isn’t managed, it can lead to serious health complications. Yet, aside from affecting your overall health, did you know diabetes affects your teeth, gums, and general oral health too, particularly if it’s not well controlled? If you’re one of our current or prospective Bellaire or Houston braces or Invisalign® patients, you might be wondering what the implications are for orthodontic treatment with diabetes. 

As a Houston and Bellaire orthodontist, we’ll fill you in on everything you need to know. In this post, we’ll be covering:

  • How diabetes affects oral health
  • The link between diabetes and gum disease
  • What you should know about diabetes with Invisalign or braces 
  • Whether or not you can still get Invisalign or braces with diabetes
  • Tips for maintaining healthy teeth and gums if you have diabetes to ensure your orthodontic treatment is successful. 

How Diabetes Affects Oral Health

When it comes to diabetes and oral health, one of the first questions patients often ask at our office is: Does diabetes affect your teeth? The answer is, yes, it can if it’s not treated.

So, how diabetes affects your oral health? These are a few ways the condition can negatively impact your mouth:

  • You might produce less saliva from diabetes itself or from the medications you need to take to manage it, which can cause dry mouth. Since saliva is essential for remineralizing the teeth and balancing the pH in the mouth, this also puts you at a higher risk for tooth decay, or cavities.
  • You’re more likely to develop gum disease and experience swollen, inflamed or bleeding gums.
  • You’re more susceptible to oral infections, including a fungal infection called thrush.
  • Wounds and sores in the mouth can take longer to heal.
  • In kids with diabetes, the teeth sometimes erupt sooner than they normally would.

The Connection Between Diabetes and Gum Disease

Perhaps the biggest concern as far as diabetes and oral health is its link to gum disease. What is gum disease? Gum disease, technically called periodontal disease, is an infection of the soft tissues that support the teeth and hold them in place. Gum disease is caused by a build-up of harmful bacteria that wasn’t eliminated by brushing and flossing.

In its earliest stages, gum disease is called gingivitis. Gingivitis can be reversed with professional dental care and a diligent oral hygiene routine. Once gingivitis advances into periodontitis, a more severe form of gum disease, it can only be managed and not reversed. Periodontitis can cause the tooth-supporting gums, tissues and bone to erode, eventually leading to tooth loss. 

Why is this related to diabetes? Well, people diagnosed with diabetes are much more likely to develop periodontal disease. This is because a complication of diabetes is an inability to effectively fight infections and gum disease is just that, a bacterial infection. The risk increases as you age and if blood sugar isn’t controlled properly. Not only can diabetes make you more susceptible to gum disease, but having gum disease, as with any infection, can cause a rise in blood sugar and make controlling your diabetes more difficult, leading to an undesirable cycle. 

What to Know About Getting Braces or Invisalign With Diabetes

Since diabetes does affect your teeth and gums, it can also impact your orthodontic treatment. Teeth move most effectively in a healthy oral environment. Additionally, braces and Invisalign exert force not only on the teeth but also on the gums. So if you’re considering Invisalign or braces with diabetes, it’s crucial that any gum disease has been treated and is under control for a safe, ideal outcome. 

Another thing to consider about orthodontic treatment with diabetes is the fact that you’re prone to dry mouth. Dry mouth with Invisalign and braces can occur at the start of treatment, even without diabetes, as you adjust to having an appliance in your mouth. Patients with diabetes may experience more severe braces or Invisalign dry mouth, which can cause discomfort or lead to cavities, in extreme cases, if not addressed. Of course, there are things you can do to fight dry mouth and boost your oral health with diabetes, which we’ll share shortly. 

Can I Still Get Braces or Invisalign if I Have Diabetes?

Having diabetes doesn’t mean you can’t get orthodontic treatment. As long as your blood sugar levels and gum disease, if you have it, are under control, orthodontic treatment is absolutely a possibility. At Houston Orthodontic Specialists, our doctors are experts in treating patients of all ages and levels of health. They can coordinate with your dentist or any specialists to ensure that your teeth and gums are healthy enough for orthodontic treatment and that you’ll still achieve excellent results.

While you can get braces with diabetes, for some patients who currently have or have had gum disease, Invisalign might be the better option. Invisalign aligners are removable so you can brush and floss as you normally would to remove bacteria and plaque from around the gumline. This will prevent gum disease from progressing and causing unwanted tooth movements during your treatment. 

Tips for Keeping Teeth and Gums Healthy During Orthodontic Treatment With Diabetes

Amazing oral health and diabetes can go hand in hand. Here are some tips for healthy teeth and gums that will allow you to breeze through orthodontic treatment and get the outstanding results you deserve:

  • Control your blood sugar and overall health by eating healthy, exercising regularly and taking any prescribed diabetes medications. 
  • Brush your teeth in the morning, after meals and snacks, and before bed, whether you have braces or Invisalign. 
  • Floss once daily. While you can floss normally during Invisalign treatment, when flossing with braces, an orthodontic flosser or floss threader will make the job easier and more effective. 
  • An antibacterial or antimicrobial mouthwash with fluoride can zap harmful bacteria and strengthen enamel for healthier teeth and gums. Swish the mouthwash in your mouth for 60 seconds twice a day for maximum benefits. 
  • Consider adding some oral hygiene extras like a Waterpik, or water flosser, and a proxabrush, also called an interdental brush or proxybrush, to your oral hygiene routine. You can use a Waterpik for braces or Invisalign. It doesn’t take the place of regular flossing and is an additional step, but water flossers are amazing for keeping gums healthy and getting teeth extra clean. 

A proxabrush is another fan favorite among our Bellaire and Houston Invisalign and braces patients. Use it to get rid of the plaque, bacteria, and food particles that can accumulate in the tight spaces around your braces brackets.

  • Quit smoking. Smoking cigarettes or chewing tobacco with diabetes can worsen gum disease and lead to a number of other oral health concerns that can also affect your orthodontic treatment. 
  • Limit sugary drinks and treats. You’re probably doing this anyway to manage your diabetes, but limiting sugary drinks and treats is even more important when you’re in orthodontic treatment. Your appliance gives plaque more places to hide and the bacteria in plaque feed on sugars and starches. When they do, they release acids that eat away at the tooth enamel, which can cause cavities. As for how to get rid of a sweet tooth if you struggle with that, enjoy sugars and staches in moderation and opt for healthy alternatives when possible. Always brush your teeth after having a treat. 
  • Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water to combat dry mouth and encourage saliva production. As we said, as far as diabetes and oral health, dry mouth is very common. Having diabetes can also make run-of-the-mill braces or Invisalign dry mouth worse. Drinking plenty of water will help. 
  • Another way to beat dry mouth and get your saliva flowing is to chew sugarless gums after meals. Of course, you can chew gum with Invisalign since the aligners are removable. But can you chew gum with braces? Yes, you can chew gum with braces as long as it’s sugar-free because the sugarless varieties are less sticky. Plus, sugarless gum, especially if it contains xylitol, has a number of oral health benefits, including killing bad bacteria and reducing the risk of cavities. It’s also thought that chewing sugar-free gum can help alleviate discomfort when you first get braces put on and after adjustments. 
  • Keep up with visits to your general dentist throughout your orthodontic treatment. Regular check-ups and cleanings are essential for ensuring your teeth and gums are healthy. Your dentist will make sure your diabetes isn’t affecting your oral health. During professional cleanings, they can also remove hardened plaque that you can’t get rid of at home with a regular toothbrush. This will go a long way in eliminating or controlling gum disease and preventing cavities.
  • The brackets and wires from your braces may cause irritation or sores during the first few weeks of braces treatment. This will go away once your mouth toughens up and gets used to your new hardware. However, when undergoing orthodontic treatment with diabetes, it’s a good idea to avoid or minimize irritation because it will take longer to heal and you’re prone to infection. Opting for Invisalign can be a good idea since the aligners are smooth and there are no brackets and wires. 

If you do get braces, use orthodontic relief wax at the first sign of irritation. Break off a small piece of wax, roll it in a ball between your fingers to warm it up and stick it on the parts of your braces that are bothering you. You can also swish with a saltwater rinse (a teaspoon of salt dissolved in a glass of warm water) as needed to promote healing and reduce discomfort. 

Now that you know how diabetes affects your oral health but orthodontic treatment with diabetes is still possible. You can still get your beautiful dream smile. Schedule a complimentary consultation at Houston Orthodontic Specialists in West Houston or Bellaire today. Be sure to let us know that you have diabetes and we’ll create a personalized treatment plan and work with your dentist to help you get your best smile in a way that’s healthy and effective.