ATLANTA - If you're a diabetic, Inman Park Dentistry's Dr. Alex Rodriguez says to keep a close eye on your gums.
"It's a really common issue," Dr. Rodriguez says. "If you have diabetes, you're at much greater risk to get gum disease."
Dr. Rodriguez says diabetes drives up blood sugar levels, and germs, like the bacteria in our mouths, thrive on sugar. So, diabetics are more likely to develop infections in their gums and the bones that hold their teeth in place.
"And, it's not just the superficial, above-the-gumline type of infection," he says. "We're talking down below the gums, the areas that are hard to reach."
Because of circulation problems, diabetics have a harder time fighting off oral infections.
"Gum disease is essentially a wound in your mouth," Rodriguez says. "And, when you have a delayed healing, as you do with diabetes, that wound doesn't go away easily."
As gum disease worsens, inflammatory chemicals spill into the bloodstream, which can raise blood sugar levels.
"Sore teeth, sore gums, deep pockets around the teeth, all of these are signs of gum disease," Dr. Rodriguez says. "In a fairly normal person, it's probably they're not brushing well enough, but in a person with diabetes, they may be brushing and flossing well, but they're still going to be a little bit more susceptible."
A dry, burning sensation in your mouth, frequent fungal infections or mouth ulcers can also be signs of diabetes-related gum disease. It's a problem Rodriguez says his own brother has struggled with, after being diagnosed late.
"He told me the other day if he didn't have a brother who was a dentist, he doesn't know how much worse off he'd be," he says. "We've already pulled half of the teeth in his mouth, it was that far advanced."
If you have diabetes, Rodriguez says, see your dentist every six months, and brush and floss at least twice a day.
The best thing diabetics can do is work with their doctor and their dentist to manage their condition.
"And if we can get their blood sugar under control, they can live happy, healthy lives for a long time," Rodriguez says.