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Ask The Experts: Diabetes leading to gum disease

Gum disease is a chronic infection of the tissues that surround and support the teeth, and people with diabetes are more prone to getting it if they have poor blood sugar control.
Gum disease is a chronic infection of the tissues that surround and support the teeth, and people with diabetes are more prone to getting it if they have poor blood sugar control.ST FILE PHOTO

Q I am diabetic and heard that I can get gum disease because of my illness. Is this possible and why is this so? Does diabetes lead to tooth loss?

A Yes, gum disease is one of the lesser-known complications of diabetes, a disease characterised by high blood sugar levels.

Also known as periodontal disease, gum disease is a chronic infection of the tissues that surround and support your teeth. It can lead to tooth loss but is preventable.

People with diabetes are more prone to this disease if they have poor blood sugar control.

Type 1 diabetes, which typically develops before the age of 21, is caused by the body's inability to produce a hormone called insulin, which controls blood sugar levels.

On the other hand, Type 2 diabetes is caused by the body's inability to make use of insulin to control blood sugar levels. It typically develops after the age of 40.

High blood sugar levels can lead to various complications, such as fatigue, dry mouth, blindness, poor wound healing, nerve diseases, kidney diseases and gum disease.

Dry mouth happens when there is a lack of saliva in the mouth. This can lead to the accumulation of bacterial plaque on your teeth.

Plaque accumulation will, in turn, lead to fungal and bacterial infections like tooth decay and gum disease. These can lead to tooth loss if left unchecked.

Also, high blood sugar levels can weaken your immune system.

When a patient with diabetes has a weak immune system, he is more prone to gum disease, as it is caused by bacterial infection in the gums.

Last but not least, diabetes can cause the gums to weaken.

Patients with weak gums are also more prone to gum disease because the bacterial activity in the mouth can easily affect the gums.

When the gums are weakened and start to recede, the support around the teeth will be lost. Teeth can eventually fall out.

This is why people with diabetes should go for regular dental check-ups. It is particularly important because gum disease can be easily treated in the early stages of the disease.

Dr Ang Chee Wan, Clinical director and dental specialist in periodontics, T32 Dental Group (Specialist Division)

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2017, with the headline 'Ask The Experts: Diabetes leading to gum disease'. Print Edition | Subscribe