Diabetes may impact your dental health, but with a little extra care and attention, you can keep your mouth healthy and your teeth strong.
Research shows that there is a strong connection between diabetes and oral health issues. People with diabetes, for example, have a higher risk of getting gum disease, an infection of the gums and bones that hold the teeth in place. According to the American Dental Association, about 22 percent of people with diabetes are diagnosed with gum disease. To make matters worse, gum disease makes controlling blood glucose levels more difficult.
Diabetes and Oral Health
People with diabetes, especially poorly controlled diabetes, are more prone to developing certain oral health problems.
- Gingivitis, the first stage of gum disease, causes gums to become inflamed, swollen and bleed easily
- Dry mouth, which can lead to tooth decay because there is not enough saliva to wash away germs
- Thrush, a fungal infection that causes white patches to form in your mouth, which can turn into ulcers
Glucose-rich saliva can encourage harmful bacteria to grow and plaque (a sticky substance) to form. Too much plaque can lead to tooth decay, periodontitis (advanced gum disease), and bad breath. This is another reason why maintaining healthy blood glucose levels is so important for your oral health. If you do not manage your blood glucose levels, you may be more likely to develop advanced gum disease—where your gums separate from your teeth—and lose teeth. About one in five cases of total tooth loss is linked to diabetes.
The good news is that, if you keep your blood sugar under control, your risk of developing gum disease and other oral health issues is no greater than someone without diabetes. When you have diabetes, knowledge, diligence, and good habits can go a long way toward keeping your mouth healthy and your teeth strong.
How to Spot the Signs
Since uncontrolled diabetes can increase your risk of developing gum disease, it's important to be on the lookout for signs of oral health problems. Symptoms to watch for include:
- Bleeding gums, especially when you brush or floss
- Gums that appear red or feel tender or swollen
- Chronic bad breath
- Changes in the way your teeth fit together
- Permanent teeth that feel loose or seem to be moving apart
- Gums that appear to pull away or recede from your teeth, which may make your teeth look longer or larger
How You Can Prevent Oral Health Issues
The two most important steps you can take to prevent gum disease and other oral health issues are keeping your blood sugar levels in check and seeing your dentist regularly (about every six months). Be sure to tell your dentist that you have diabetes and about any other dental health issues or concerns you have. In addition to these two crucial steps, you should:
- Brush at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste such as Sensodyne Maximum Strength with Fluoride
- Use a toothbrush with soft bristles
- Replace your toothbrush every two to three months
- Brush your tongue and gums, in addition to your teeth
- Floss at least once a day; flossing at night is best
- If you're a smoker, try to quit. Talk with your Rite Aid Pharmacist about how Rite Aid's "Quit For You" program may be able to help
- If you wear dentures, clean them regularly
- To combat dry mouth, drink plenty of water, chew sugarless gum, and eat crunchy foods (like carrot sticks). You can also use a dry mouth rinse, such as Biotene Dry Mouth Oral Rinse, or suck on dry mouth lozenges
- Check your mouth regularly for problems or changes
By Joelle Klein
American Dental Association, Diabetes and Your Smile
WebMD.com, Diabetes and Periodontal Disease
American Diabetes Association, More on the Mouth
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Diabetes, Gum Disease and Other Dental Problems
American Diabetes Association, Diabetes and Oral Health Problems
Healthline.com, Type 2 Diabetes and Oral Health
American Diabetes Association, Warning Signs
American Dental Association, 5 Ways Diabetes Can Affect Your Mouth