Oral Health and Diabetes

Regular check-ups at the dentist may not be pleasant. However they are very important, along with twice daily brushing and flossing, and drinking water often. For people living with diabetes it is important that check-ups are done regularly, at least once a year, as diabetes can increase oral health problems.

Read more about how diabetes can lead to an increase in oral health problems and why Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living with diabetes are at greater risk …

How does diabetes cause oral health problems?

High blood glucose levels can cause dry mouth which can lead to plaque build-up on teeth and tooth decay. Excess glucose in the blood can also feed bacteria in the mouth leading to tooth decay and oral thrush. Inflammation from periodontitis (gum disease) drives blood glucose levels up and makes managing diabetes into target ranges difficult. Hence people living with diabetes have an increased risk of developing oral health problems.

Common oral health problems affecting people living with diabetes include:

  • periodontitis (gum disease)
  • gum abscesses
  • tooth decay and tooth loss
  • fungal infections such as thrush
  • mouth ulcers
  • taste disturbances

Why are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples at greater risk of oral health problems?

Many social and cultural determinants of health can affect how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples manage and access support for their diabetes and oral health.

Accessible (financial and physically) and culturally safe dental care can be difficult for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to access. Other determinants such as competing social and health priorities, access to housing, clean water, nutritious food and oral hygiene products can also compromise diabetes and oral health care.

Supporting better oral health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

Oral health promotion programs

Oral health promotion and care are best integrated within targeted primary health care programs and services, in particular, in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled health services. Here the social and cultural determinants of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ oral health needs are well recognised and addressed, and community are actively involved in the design, delivery and management of services including;

  • community water fluoridation
  • promotion of fluoride usage, such as fluoridated toothpaste and professional application of fluoride varnish
  • education relating to dietary patterns, nutrition (including drinks) and oral hygiene instruction
  • smoking cessation programs
  • trauma prevention and management

Individual support

Encourage people to:

  • Work with their healthcare team (Aboriginal Health Worker and or Practitioner, Nurse, Diabetes Educator, Dietitian and Doctor) on keeping blood glucose levels within target range
  • Brush and floss teeth twice daily with fluoride toothpaste and a soft toothbrush
  • Visit the Dentist at least once a year
  • Quit smoking, direct people to their Doctor or the Quitline on 137 848
  • Access nutritious and quality food and drink choices. Encourage people to enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods, and limit foods and drinks high in added sugars (e.g. soft drink and fruit juices). Promote water as the everyday drink.

Further information

For more information on diabetes please head to the Diabetes Australia website here OR call the NDSS Helpline on 1800 637 700 to speak with a health professional.

By Robbie Tyson, CDE

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