A Brush with Greatness: Diabetes at the Dentist


I do not care for the dentist.

Actually, let me back up for a second, because that’s not fair.  I like my dentist a lot.  He’s terrific, and very good at his job, and I feel well-cared for and respected during our visits.  He takes the health of my teeth very seriously.

But I don’t like going to see him, because dentist appointments have always scared me

I have very sensitive teeth. I have no idea if it’s because of a long history of type 1 diabetes or because sensitive teeth seem to run in my family, but even a basic cleaning at the dentist’s office can put me on edge. And filling a cavity?  That’s an out-and-out nightmare of Novocain and clutching the dentist’s chair so hard that my hands go numb.

Associating pain and discomfort with my dental visits kept me from going to my appointments regularly. For a few years, I was only getting a cleaning here and there, and regular dental care was something I viewed with trepidation and fear.  (Seems like I’m not alone in this, either, as a recent study just came out citing people with diabetes as reluctant frequent fliers at the dentist’s office.)  Yes, I was brushing regularly and flossing like a champ (mostly in pursuit of avoiding the dentist for as long a stint as possible), but little issues would crop up here and there, forcing me into the dentist’s chair. 

Life with diabetes has shown me that avoiding something doesn’t make it go away, and my need to maintain my oral health was as important as keeping tabs on my blood sugars. Also, for people with diabetes, we KNOW that our teeth are impacted by blood sugar fluctuations.  Haven’t you ever had that “sweaters” feeling on your teeth when your blood sugars are high?  You know what I’m talking about. 

Diabetes can take a bite out of your oral health, for sure.  According to the Mayo Clinic (and every other health resource out there), diabetes is huge cause for cavities, gingivitis, periodontitis, and other oral issues.

I don’t want any of that. 

Just like with so many other things, diabetes causes me to have to pay extra attention to non-pancreas-related issues, too.  Managing blood sugars as tightly as possible can help me avoid extra dental woes, as can regular (gentle) brushings, flossing, and following through on all my dentist appointments. 

Sigh.  So I go to the dentist like all the time now.  I go to all my cleanings, and I make myself show up a bit early every time, checking in with the receptionists immediately so I don’t have any choice but to follow through on my appointment.  I go in for my cleaning (the hygienist is amazing and puts a bit of numbing cream on my teeth where they’re most sensitive, allowing the cleaning to be as painless and effective as possible), I take their advice on flossing to heart, and when the dentist comes in to examine my teeth, his kind and calm demeanor takes the edge off my panic. 

Going to the dentist is … kind of nice now?  Dare I say borderline enjoyable?  (Almost.)

I make my next appointment as I’m leaving their office.  That strategy, coupled with being a patient in a practice that is kind and careful, helps me with my follow through.  (I also bring both of my children to the same dentist’s office, upping my accountability even more.)  And yes, it feels weird to have to psyche myself up to follow through on something as simple as a cleaning, but when fear takes root, it can supersede logic and good intentions. 

So bring on the minty toothpaste!  And the floss!  And that light they shine right onto my face that sometimes causes  me to sweat!  And the little metal picky instruments that are the stuff of nightmares!  They are scary and intimidating but ultimately contribute to my better health, so I’ll check my fear in pursuit of happy teeth.

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4 years ago

Thanks for this post Kerri! Since April is National Health Month around the globe – this is a good kick up my fuzzy rear buttocks to get my teeth cleaned. I have no fear of the dentist – just the bill – ha! ha! – with no insurance coverage … it’s often what puts people off … but I’ll find away to afford it. I want my teeth to last for the next 50 years (ouch – I’ll be 110 years old by now … Gummy FatCatAnna … mewwww.

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