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Diabetes can affect your teeth and gums. It can cause pain, infection, and other problems in your mouth. But it doesn't have to if you control your blood sugar, take good care of your teeth and gums, and make regular visits to your dentist. Here's how.

Diabetes and Gum Disease: A Two-Way Street

When you have high blood sugar from diabetes, your saliva and the fluid around your teeth and under your gums contain more sugars. This helps harmful germs in plaque to grow. Plaque irritates your gums and can lead to gum disease, tooth decay, and tooth loss. Gum disease makes your gums bleed, look red, and swell. High blood sugar can make gum disease get worse faster.

If you control your blood sugars well, you're less likely to have these problems. Studies show that people who have good control of their diabetes are less likely to have gum disease than those who don't control their diabetes well. They also tend to lose fewer teeth from gum disease.

What’s more, recent research shows that having gum disease may make your blood sugars worse. But prompt help for gum disease can improve your blood sugar levels.

See your dentist regularly. Schedule a visit right away if you have any of these signs of gum disease:

  • Gums that are red, swollen, sore, or bleed easily
  • Gums that pull away from your teeth
  • Sensitive or loose teeth
  • Changes in the way your bite feels
  • Dentures that don’t fit right
  • Bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth

Diabetes and Mouth Problems

Gum disease is the most common mouth problem for people with diabetes. But diabetes raises your chances of other mouth problems, too. You can't fight infections as well, and high blood sugar makes it easier for germs and bacteria to grow in your mouth.

Thrush, a type of fungal infection, is more common if you have diabetes, especially if you also smoke or wear dentures. Thrush causes white or red patches in your mouth that can burn or feel sore. Having thrush can also make it hard to swallow and affects how food tastes to you.

If you have any symptoms of thrush, see your doctor or dentist. You may need to take an antifungal drug to treat it. Avoid smoking; maintain good blood sugar control; and if you wear dentures, remove and clean them daily.

Diabetes also makes dry mouth and problems with healing more likely. A dry mouth can cause soreness and ulcers and lead to cavities and salivary gland infections. If your mouth is dry, try drinking more water or chewing sugar-free gum. You can also use a saliva substitute, which is sold in most drugstores.

If you have problems with healing, it may take longer for your mouth to heal after any type of dental surgery. Healing problems can also raise your chances of infection. Be sure to let your dentist know you have diabetes.