Recognizing American Diabetes Alert Day, March 22, 2011

Millions of Americans are affected by diabetes, a disease that can impact the entire body, including the mouth and eyes.

Oral Health Concerns
Diabetics have a higher-than-normal risk of oral health problems if blood sugar levels are not controlled properly because high glucose levels in saliva may help bacteria thrive. Diabetes also weakens the ability of white blood cells to fight against the development of bacterial infections in the mouth.

Individuals with diabetes are at a higher risk of experiencing these oral health concerns:

  • Dry mouth – Diabetes may decrease saliva flow, leading to tooth decay, mouth soreness, ulcers and infections
  • Gum inflammation (gingivitis and periodontitis) – Diabetes causes blood vessels to thicken, slowing the flow of nutrients to body tissues and removal of waste products, which reduces the body’s ability to fight infections and heal oral issues after oral surgery and dental procedures
  • Thrush – Diabetics who regularly use antibiotics to fight infections are more susceptible to this fungal infection of the mouth and tongue
  • Complications from smoking – Diabetics who smoke are up to 20 times more likely than nonsmokers to develop thrush and periodontal disease

Daily Dental Tips to Maintain Oral Health

  • Brush your teeth after every meal; floss daily to prevent plaque build up on teeth and gums, which, if left untreated, can lead to tooth or bone loss
  • Schedule regular dental appointments for cleanings and checkups, as directed by your dentist
  • Avoid smoking

Managing Eye Concerns

Individuals with diabetes are at high risk of developing cataracts, glaucoma and retinopathy:

  • Cataracts – Occur when the lens behind the pupil becomes cloudy; diabetics are prone to developing cataracts at an earlier age than most, with the condition progressing rapidly
  • Glaucoma – Results when pressure builds up inside the eyes, damaging nerves and blood vessels and overall vision; common condition among diabetics; symptoms are not obvious until in an advanced stage and significant vision loss has occurred
  • Diabetic retinopathy – Develops when high blood sugar levels damage small vessels in the retina, the area of the eye that converts light entering the lens into images; leads to temporary or permanent blindness

Tips to Prevent Eye Problems

  • Control blood sugar and blood pressure levels, as directed by your physician
  • Report vision changes immediately to your eye doctor, such as blurred or double vision, eye pain or pressure, signs of spots, floaters or flashing lights or difficulty seeing out of the corners of your eye (peripheral vision)
  • Schedule eye examinations, as directed by your eye doctor; do not wait until vision changes are noticed

Do you, or someone you know, have diabetes? If oral or vision health concerns have developed, what treatment steps were taken? – Ken VanCleave, Ameritas Group

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