Dental Care Tips for People With Diabetes

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Close up view on senior dentures

If you’re among the 30 million Americans who have diabetes, you know the harmful impact the disease can have on your nerves, eyes, kidneys, heart and other organs. But did you know diabetes can also impact your dental health?

Research shows the relationship between serious gum disease (periodontitis) and diabetes can run both ways. People with diabetes are at risk of developing serious gum disease, and serious gum disease may make it more difficult to control your blood glucose. But by following these important tips and guidelines, you can stay ahead of gum disease and other oral health problems.

Why Diabetes Affects Your Mouth and Teeth

The glucose in your blood has an impact on the saliva in your mouth: The higher your blood sugar, the higher the glucose levels in saliva. This situation can lead to an increase in harmful bacteria in your mouth that combines with foods you eat to form dental plaque—which can cause tooth decay, cavities, gum disease, and bad breath.

Over time, dental plaque hardens into tartar that collects above your gum line and makes it more difficult to brush and clean between your teeth. Such buildup can also cause gingivitis, the first stage of periodontal disease which causes gums to become red, swollen, and more likely to bleed when you brush and floss your teeth.

Additionally, diabetes can cause other oral problems, including thrush (an infection caused by a fungus that grows in the mouth) and dry mouth (often the cause of mouth pain, sores or infection and cavities).

Ways to Prevent Dental Problems With Diabetes

How diligent do you need to be in protecting the health of your teeth and gums if you are diabetic? It will require a bit more work and attention, but following these tips can go a long way in helping you prevent excessive tartar buildup, gingivitis and periodontitis:

  • Control glucose levels through ongoing blood monitoring and A1C tests as prescribed by your doctor

  • Gently brush your teeth at least twice a day with a soft nylon brush with rounded ends on the bristles

  • Floss your teeth every day to reduce plaque and tartar buildup

  • Get your teeth cleaned at least every six months at your dentist’s office

  • Make sure to let your dentist and hygienist know if you notice any changes in your mouth

  • Quit smoking

When to See a Dentist

Gingivitis and serious gum disease can sometimes be painless. In fact, you may not even know you have these conditions until there is more significant damage. In addition to regular cleanings, call your dentist right away if you ever notice these warning signs:

  • Bleeding gums or gums that are swollen, tender or red

  • Gums pulled away from teeth that expose some of a tooth’s root

  • Pus between your teeth and gums (when you press on the gums)

  • Bad breath, even after brushing your teeth

  • Sores that don’t heal

  • Permanent teeth that are loose or moving away from one another

Good dental habits combined with ongoing and regular professional care from your dentist are smart ways to protect anyone’s healthy smile. But for diabetics, they’re also essential steps in your diabetes management and can help slow the progression of the disease.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2018 Mar 13
  1. Prevent Diabetes Problems: Keep Your Mouth Healthy. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/Diabetes/prevent-diabetes-problems/Pages/k...
  2. Diabetes Dental Tips. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/Topics/Diabetes/DiabetesDentalTips.htm
  3. Diabetes and Oral Health Problems. American Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/oral-health-and-hygiene/diabetes-and...
  4. Diabetes and Your Smile. American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/d/diabetes
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