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Poor Oral Health Is a Problem for People with Diabetes

Diabetes is nothing to smile about. The disease can cause serious damage to your body. It can even harm your teeth.

Dental professional working on man's mouth

Oral health problems

If you have diabetes, it is important to be aware of its complications. You may know that you have to pay special attention to your feet and eyes. But you should add your teeth and gums to that list.

Why? People with diabetes are more prone to infections, especially when their blood sugar isn’t under control. High blood sugar can allow bacteria to grow in your mouth. These bacteria, along with food particles, form plaque. Plaque is a thin film that can build up on your teeth. If it isn’t removed, it hardens and becomes tartar. It can then lead to tooth decay and other oral health problems.

If you don’t take care of your teeth, you may eventually end up with gum disease (gingivitis or periodontitis). It can cause bleeding and swollen gums. It may even result in tooth loss. People with diabetes may be more likely to lose their teeth, especially as they grow older. That, in turn, can lower quality of life. Like any infection, gum inflammation also makes it harder to manage your diabetes. Women with diabetes during pregnancy are at a very high risk for gum disease.

Along with gum disease, you may also be at higher risk for other oral problems:

  • Cavities

  • Dry mouth

  • Bad breath

  • Burning sensation in the mouth

  • Thrush, a type of fungus that causes painful white patches to grow inside the mouth

  • Failure of dental implants, if diabetes is not well controlled

Healthy mouth tips

You can prevent many oral health problems. First, see your dentist for regular checkups. Every 6 or less months is best. But your dentist may want to see you more often if needed. Also be sure to tell your dentist that you have diabetes. You may need to postpone some dental work if your blood sugar isn’t under control. Bring a snack and your diabetes medicine with you to your dental appointment to take after your treatment.

Here are other tips for a healthy mouth:

  • Brush your teeth every day. Ideally, you should do so after you wake up, after every meal, and before bedtime. Use a toothpaste that contains fluoride. It can help prevent gum disease.

  • Floss at least once daily. Or use a dental pick. Both help remove plaque for cleaner teeth.

  • Keep your blood sugar at a healthy level. If you are on medicine for your diabetes, take it as you normally would before any dental visits. Also bring a snack and source of sugar to your visit in case you need to treat low blood sugar.

  • Eat a healthy diet. Limit foods that are high in sugar. They can promote plaque buildup and hence tooth decay.

  • Don't smoke.

You should also check your mouth and teeth regularly for any problems. Tell your dentist if you have pain, ulcers that don’t heal, or a loose tooth. Also watch for any of the following signs of gum disease:

  • Bleeding, red, or swollen gums

  • Receding gums

  • Pus between your gums and teeth

  • Lingering bad breath or taste

  • Discomfort or a difference in how your teeth feel when you bite down

Online Medical Reviewer: Amy Finke RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Ricardo Rafael Correa Marquez MD
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.