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If you are diabetic, don’t neglect your mouth

Written by Solaade Ayo-Aderele - Nigeria

Except a miracle happens, diabetes is a life-long disease. The best way to avoid it is to prevent yourself from developing it.

But then, if you have the condition, there’s no sitting down and wishing it never happened or indulging in self-pity.
Physicians say once an individual is confirmed as being diabetic, the best thing s/he can do is to enroll for medical care under a competent doctor in order to prevent complications from setting in.

Diabetologist/Medical Director of Rainbow Specialist Hospital, Dr. Afokoghene Isiavwe, warns that diabetes is not a condition that any individual can manage at home. Rather, she says, it’s a life-long condition that needs expert, life-long care if the patient must live quality life.

Isiavwe says diabetes comes with sack loads of issues which, if well managed, may not result in life-threatening complications.
Of course, having diabetes is life-threatening enough, experts lament; but they are quick to say that if you take practical steps by accessing good care, you can reduce the complications for which diabetes is notorious.

What is diabetes?

Isiavwe says an individual is said to be diabetic when the amount of glucose in the blood is too high because the body cannot use it properly.
Blood flows through every part of the body, because it is the fuel that keeps us alive. The day blood-flow to an organ ceases, that organ dies, literally.
The body needs healthy, untainted blood, to function optimally. But because of too much sugar in the blood — which causes diabetes in the first place — the body is inhibited from functioning properly.

Diabetes is one ill health that courses through the entire body because it resides in the blood. As such, it is capable of taking along every organ and nerves in the body in its downward trend.

Isiavwe says when diabetes complications set in, they could affect the eyes (retinopathy), heart (cardiovascular disease), kidneys (nephropathy), and nerves and feet (neuropathy).
But an important part of the body that this condition also affects is the mouth.

General Practitioner, Dr. Ireti Majebi, says diabetes puts you at risk for dental problems.
“It impairs the body’s ability to fight bacteria in your mouth. High blood sugar encourages bacteria to grow and this largely contributes to gum disease,” Majebi notes.

Gum disease is easy to diagnose because the symptoms are unmistakable, experts say.
Symptoms include red gums that are sore, bleeding, or swollen. Sometimes, the condition makes the gum to pull away from the teeth, leading to loose teeth. Indeed, if you dither too much about your care, you may lose substantial number of teeth, or possibly become toothless!

Of course, the possibility of developing chronic bad breath is also there, making you socially obnoxious to those who come near you. Nobody wants this, hence the need to take care of your mouth the way you monitor you blood sugar.

Dental care is a must

The average Nigerian doesn’t see the need to visit a dentist; and in a lifetime, an individual may not have had a professional examine his teeth. A diabetic person doesn’t have this ‘luxury.’

Professor of Conservation Dentistry at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Oluniyi Olusile, counsels a diabetic person to get dental check-ups at least twice a year.
The truth is that diabetes puts you at a higher risk of fungal infections such as thrush and mouth sores. These conditions don’t heal easily, experts warn, hence the need to prevent them from occurring at all.

Worse, experts say, is the fact that mouth infections in diabetics put them at higher risks of developing heart disease, such as high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol.
Olusile says once your dentist knows that you are diabetic, he knows the relevant oral care to provide, and it will definitely include professional cleaning that will rid your mouth of infection; while your physician will also give you the nitty-gritty of at-home oral self-care.
Most people only clean their teeth in the morning, though dentists would have us do it twice daily: first thing in the morning and last thing before we sleep. However, a diabetic can’t limit teeth cleaning to once daily. Rather, physicians say, you must endeavour to brush your teeth twice daily, so as to control the possibility of oral infection that can happen because of high blood sugar.

Of course, smoking is bad for everyone; but when you are diabetic, it is a no-go area!
Olusile says in the case of a diabetic person, tobacco use can damage gum tissue and cause receding gums; just as it can also speed up bone and tissue loss, leading to teeth loss, facial disfigurement and the attendant social stigma.

To prevent all these, don’t smoke; and if you already do, stop smoking.

Eat healthy

Under normal circumstances, your food passes through your mouth before it reaches your stomach and, eventually, every part of your body.
That is why you must eat balanced diet that will not only make for steady blood sugar level, but which will not allow bacteria to colonise your mouth.

Nutritionists say much of our traditional foods are okay for you if you eat them in proper combination of carbohydrates, protein and fats; and also if you reduce the quantity.
However, you are warned against indulging in sticky and sugary foods such as ice cream, yoghurt or sweets. In short, if you are diabetic, processed (fast) foods are not for you.
But then, we are human. So, if ever you do eat any of these foods, brush your teeth properly afterwards.

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