07 Jul 2017 Diet, Diabetes and Tooth Decay
An estimated 16 million Americans currently have diabetes, a systemic condition that can affect every part of your body from the bottom of your feet to your eyes. Unfortunately, many people do not know that diabetes can even take the sparkle out of your smile. Diabetics are more vulnerable to all kinds of oral infections, including tooth decay.
Everyone’s teeth are covered in a sticky biofilm called plaque. Each time you eat or drink something that has sugar or carbohydrates, the bacteria that live in plaque eat, too, and they release a byproduct that is highly acidic. These acids break down teeth in a process called demineralization. Saliva helps remineralize teeth, but diabetes and a diet high in carbohydrates can lead to an imbalance that increases oral bacteria levels and the risk of tooth decay. Diet and oral health are only a small part of the picture when it comes to cavities, however.
Diabetes and oral health are also closely connected, but poorly controlled diabetes can take an especially heavy toll on your mouth. Chronic high blood glucose levels can lead to glucose seeping into your saliva. Sugary saliva keeps teeth bathed in sugar and provides oral bacteria with a constant buffet from which they can feed. The mouth becomes chronically irritated and inflamed, and the teeth become weakened as the enamel is eroded from the acid bath. If you do not take action quickly, cavities will form.
Diabetics can take control of their dental health by taking control of their diabetes. Eating a healthy diet will help you manage your blood sugars and reduce the risk of tooth decay. Avoid sugary, starchy and acidic foods, including:
- White bread and rice
- Sugary breakfast cereals
- French fries
- Battered chicken, fish or other meats
- Cakes, cookies, pies and other sugary baked goods
- Sodas, including diet sodas, which are highly corrosive to your teeth
- Juices, fruit punch, fruit drinks and energy drinks, which are acidic and high in sugar
- Fruit leather, fruit rolls, jellies, jams, preserves and sweetened applesauce
While some foods are bad for your teeth, other foods are proven cavity-fighters. They are also good for diabetics. These include:
- Low-fat dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cottage cheese, which contain enamel-strengthening calcium
- Unsweetened green tea and black coffee, which contain oral bacteria-fighting polyphenols
- Raw, fibrous fruits and vegetables, such as apples, celery, whole carrots and pears, which mechanically clean your teeth and keep bacteria-fighting saliva flowing
- Leafy greens, which are high in calcium for your teeth and B vitamins for your gums
- Xylitol-sweetened gum, which kills oral bacteria and stimulates saliva flow naturally
Incorporating more of these teeth- and body-friendly foods in your diet can help reduce your risk of cavities and stabilize your blood glucose levels.
Along with monitoring your diet and oral health, you can take other steps to prevent cavities. Brush after meals or at least two times a day using a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Clean between your teeth daily using floss or an interdental cleaner; this step is essential for removing plaque from between your teeth. If you have symptoms of gum disease, such as bleeding gums or chronic bad breath, see your dentist immediately. Also, schedule dental checkups at least twice a year.
Proper diabetes and oral health management can keep you smiling throughout your life.