Diabetes, especially uncontrolled diabetes, increases the risk of multiple complications, including infections of oral thrush. Although oral thrush is a relatively common and mostly harmless yeast infection, the combination of thrush and diabetes can cause serious complications.
An Overview of Diabetes
Diabetes mellitus, or diabetes, impairs the body’s ability to control levels of glucose, the sugar converted by body cells into energy. Consequently, blood sugar levels can rise to dangerously high levels.
There are two varieties of diabetes, both of which increase the risk of oral yeast infections. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas loses the ability to manufacture insulin, the hormone that controls blood levels of glucose. Type 1 diabetes onset usually occurs in childhood or adolescence.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common variety of diabetes. The pancreas produces insulin in cases of type 2 diabetes, but one of two complications occurs:
- the body loses the ability to use insulin properly
- the pancreas produces insufficient insulin.
Type 2 diabetes is also called adult onset diabetes, as the condition usually develops in adults. Changes in dietary habits and an increase in obesity have seen a rise of type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents, however.
Thrush and Yeast Infections
Thrush is the common name for yeast infections caused by the microorganism Candida albicans. Candida albicans is a common microorganism that is found on the mouth, digestive tract and skin of most people. Under normal circumstances, the body’s immune system keeps Candida albicans growth under control.
Under certain circumstances, Candida growth can outpace the body’s ability to control the organism and yeast infections occur. Oral thrush and vaginal yeast infections are common yeast infections.
Oral thrush presents as white, creamy-looking lesions on the inside of the cheeks and on the tongue. Thrush lesions can be painful and may bleed when rubbed. The infection can spread through the mouth to the gums, the back of the throat, the tonsils and the roof of the mouth.
Vaginal yeast infections caused by thrush overgrowth cause vaginal redness, itching and pain. White discharge from the vagina is also common.
A number of factors can trigger a thrush outbreak. Antibiotic use is often to blame for yeast infections, as the antibiotics kill beneficial microorganisms that usually prevent thrush outbreaks.
Babies, whose immune systems are not fully developed, often develop oral thrush, as do people with suppressed immune systems, such as HIV patients and people taking immune-suppressing medications.
People with diabetes are at risk of developing oral thrush or vaginal yeast infections, especially if diabetes is undiagnosed or out of control.
Uncontrolled diabetes causes the level of glucose in saliva to increase. The increase in glucose provides abundant food for Candida, which can cause a population explosion in the microorganism.
People with diabetes often live with dry mouth caused by lower than normal saliva. A dry mouth also encourages the growth of thrush, especially when coupled with high glucose levels in the little saliva that is present.
Diabetes and yeast infections are seen together often enough that thrush and yeast infections are sometimes seen as warning signs for diabetes.
Thrush and Diabetes: Complications
Uncontrolled diabetes and yeast infections can make life extremely uncomfortable and, in some cases, can produce serious infections.
Left untreated, oral thrush can become a chronic condition. In addition to vaginal yeast infections, thrush can infect the skin or spread into the esophagus, making swallowing difficult and painful.
In rare cases, thrush infections spread to the blood and internal organs. Known as invasive candidiasis, internal thrush infections may infect the heart, joints, eyes and brain and can cause serious organ damage and death.
Controlling Yeast Infections
As the combination of diabetes and yeast infections can cause widespread and chronic thrush infections, it’s important for people with diabetes to keep their risk of thrush as low as possible.
Thrush and diabetes both benefit from controlling glucose levels. If diabetes is under control, saliva will not have excess amounts of glucose and the chance of oral thrush will be greatly reduced.
Other methods used to control yeast infections and diabetes include:
- a schedule of six-month dental checkups
- daily denture cleaning (if applicable)
- eating yogurt containing active acidophilus bacteria when taking antibiotics
- practicing proper dental hygiene, including flossing
- quitting smoking (if applicable)
- treating dry mouth symptoms
- using dental stain tablets to check brushing habits
- watching for early signs of thrush or yeast infections.
Thrush and diabetes are more likely to occur together when additional risk factors for yeast infections are present. People who smoke, for instance, have a greater risk of dry mouth and, therefore, a higher risk of oral thrush. Antibiotics disrupt the natural microscopic flora of the body, allowing thrush and yeast infections to develop. People with diabetes should be especially careful.
iVillage Total Health (2006). Thrush. Retrieved July 13, 2007, from the iVillage Total Health Web site: diabetes.health.ivillage.com/diabetesskinconditions/thrush.cfm.
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (2005). Oral thrush. Retrieved July 13, 2007, from the CNN Web site: www.cnn.com/HEALTH/library/DS/00408.html.
Patient Health International (n.d.). Diabetes. Retrieved July 13, 2007, from the Patient Health International Web site: http://www.patienthealthinternational.com/ncm.aspx?type=article