Establishing good dental hygiene in children can be a challenge. Practicing good oral habits such as regular brushing and flossing, drinking plenty of water, eating a healthy diet and scheduling regular dental visits are essential to ensuring and maintaining a healthy smile in children, adolescents and teens. For children with diabetes, there are other things to consider in addition to the basics. Here is how diabetes affects your child’s oral health, and how you can best help them to reduce the negative impacts of the disease to their teeth, gums and bones.
Diabetes affects the body’s ability to process sugar and is the third most common chronic disease in children and adolescents. All food you eat is turned to sugar and used for energy. In Type I diabetes, the body doesn’t make enough insulin, a hormone that carries sugar from your blood to the cells that need it for energy. In Type II diabetes, the body stops responding to insulin. Both cases result in high blood sugar levels, which can cause problems with various parts of your body, including your mouth. Type 1 diabetes is the leading form of diabetes in children of all ages, and accounts for almost all diabetes in children younger than 10.
Whether your child has Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, managing their blood sugar level is key. Untreated diabetes may pose the following risks to your child’s oral health:
- Dry mouth, due to less saliva production.
- Because saliva protects the teeth, they are also at a higher risk of cavities.
- Gums may become inflamed and bleed often (gingivitis).
- They may have problems tasting food.
- Longer healing times after oral surgery or other dental procedures.
- Susceptibility to infections inside of their mouth, such as thrush.
- Teeth may erupt at an age earlier than is typical.
It is very important to take diabetes seriously when it comes to your child’s dental care. To avoid complications, we recommend you:
- Monitor blood sugar levels and follow your pediatrician’s instructions for keeping blood sugar levels within your child’s target range.
- Brush your child’s teeth at least twice a day. Brush in the morning, at night and, ideally, after meals and snacks. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and toothpaste that contains fluoride. Supervise oral hygiene for children younger than 6.
- Floss your child’s teeth at least once a day. Flossing helps remove plaque between their teeth and under their gum line.
- Schedule regular dental visits. Visit your pediatric dentist at least twice a year for professional cleanings, X-rays and checkups.
- Make sure your dentist knows your child has diabetes. Every time you visit your pediatric dentist, remind him or her that you have diabetes. Make sure your dentist has contact information for your pediatrician who helps you manage your child’s diabetes.
- Look for early signs of gum disease. Report any signs of gum disease — including redness, swelling and bleeding gums — to your pediatric dentist. Also mention any other signs and symptoms, such as dry mouth, loose teeth or mouth pain.
Dr. Christi Davis, DDS, PA recognizes the difficulties parents of children with diabetes face when it comes to dental care. “To increase glucose levels, you need to increase sugar, which sometimes leads to an increase in cavities. If sugar levels drop overnight for example, parents are concerned with getting sugar onboard, and not thinking about teeth. Remembering to have your child rinse their mouth out or brush their teeth will help immensely in reducing the risk of cavities.”
Dr. Davis also stresses the importance of more frequent visits for children with diabetes to follow the health of the gingiva and teeth. Timing of the visits is crucial and should be scheduled so they don’t concur with peak insulin levels, nor interfere with the child’s medication and eating schedules. The staff at Brier Creek Pediatric Dentistry can work with you to find the appropriate time to bring your child in for treatment.
When scheduling your first appointment, please let us know if your child has diabetes. Bring all medications your child is taking so we can document them and let us know if any of your child’s medications change. And finally, please provide us with your pediatrician’s contact information so that we may consult with them if necessary. Together we can help your child successfully manage their oral health in the face of diabetes.
Sources: Decisions in Dentistry, ADA, Mayo Clinic, healthline