Woman checking her bite in mirror
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4 Signs You May Have a Problem

Diabetes puts you at risk for dental problems. It hurts your ability to fight bacteria in your mouth. Having high blood sugar encourages bacteria to grow and contributes to gum disease. You may have gum disease if you have:

  • Gums that are red, sore, bleeding, or swollen, or that pull away from your teeth
  • Loose teeth
  • Chronic bad breath
  • An irregular bite or dentures that don't fit well
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Woman testing blood sugar
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Control Diabetes to Keep Your Smile

Well-controlled diabetes helps keep your mouth healthy. If you have poorly controlled or high blood sugar, you have a higher chance of dry mouth, gum disease, tooth loss, and fungal infections like thrush. Since infections can also make your blood sugar rise, your diabetes may become harder to control. Keeping your mouth healthy can help you manage your blood sugar.

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Woman looking over shoulder at dentist
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See Your Dentist Regularly

People with diabetes are more likely to have oral infections. You should get dental checkups at least twice a year. Let your dentist know you have diabetes and what medicines you take. Regular checkups and professional cleanings can help keep a mouth healthy. And your dentist can teach you the best ways to care for your teeth and gums at home.

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SEM of plaque forming bacteria
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Keep Plaque at Bay

Sticky plaque -- food, saliva, and bacteria -- starts to form on your teeth after you eat, releasing acids that attack tooth enamel. Untreated plaque turns into tartar, which builds under gum lines and is hard to remove with flossing. The longer it stays on your teeth, the more harmful it is. Bacteria in plaque causes inflammation and leads to gum disease. High blood sugar can make gum disease worse.

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Diagram of correct brushing technique
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Brush Daily, Brush Right

When you brush your teeth twice a day, it not only keeps your breath fresh, but it also helps rid your mouth of bacteria that makes up plaque and can lead to infections. To brush properly, point your bristles at a 45-degree angle against your gums. Use gentle back-and-forth strokes all over your teeth -- in front, in back, and on chewing surfaces -- for two minutes. If holding a toothbrush is hard for you, try an electric toothbrush. Also brush your gums and tongue.

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Floss Every Day

It helps control plaque. Floss can reach where a toothbrush can't, like between the teeth. Do it every day, and use floss and interdental cleaners that carry the American Dental Association (ADA) seal. Ask your dentist for tips if you're not sure how to floss. Like everything else, it gets easier with practice.

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woman using mouthwash
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Rinse

Use an anti-bacterial mouthwash every day. It freshens your breath, gets debris out of your mouth, and helps ward off gum disease and plaque buildup. Talk to your doctor about the best rinse for you.

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Dentures soaking in glass
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Take Care of Your Dentures

Loose-fitting or poorly maintained dentures can lead to gum irritation and infections. It's important to talk to your dentist about any changes in the fit of your dentures. When you have diabetes, you are at a higher risk of fungal infections like thrush. Poorly maintained dentures can contribute to thrush, too. Remove and clean your dentures daily to help lower your risk of infection.

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Toss the Tobacco

Tobacco products -- cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco, and pipes -- are bad for anyone's mouth. But if you have diabetes and you smoke, you have even higher odds of developing gum disease. Tobacco can damage tissue and cause receding gums. It can also speed up bone and tissue loss. Motivate yourself to quit. List your reasons for quitting, set a date, and get the support of family and friends.

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Dental surgery
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Prepare for Oral Surgery

Well-controlled blood sugar reduces your chance of infection and speeds healing. If you need oral surgery, tell your dentist and surgeon you have diabetes beforehand. Your doctor may recommend that you wait to have surgery until your blood sugars are under control

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4 Steps to Protect Your Health

The same steps that ensure a healthy mouth also help you manage your diabetes.

  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Keep up with your diabetes medications.
  • See your dentist regularly to lower your of a serious problem.

 

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Woman checking teeth in mirror
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Know the Warning Signs

Regular dental checkups are important because your dentist can spot gum disease even when you don't have any pain or symptoms. But you should examine your teeth and gums yourself for early signs of trouble. Infections can move fast. If you notice redness, swelling, bleeding, loose teeth, dry mouth, pain, or any other symptoms that worry you, talk to your dentist right away

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 02/01/2017 Reviewed by Michael Friedman, DDS on February 01, 2017

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REFERENCES:

South Dakota Department of Health, Diabetes Prevention and Control Program: "Diabetes and Your Mouth."
American Diabetes Association: "Warning Signs," "Diabetes and Oral Health Problems," "Frequently Asked Questions," "More on the Mouth, "Brush and Floss,” “Gum Disease and Plaque,” “Learn More About Mouthrinses.””Diabetes.” 
National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Prevent diabetes problems: Keep your teeth and gums healthy."
Ohio State University Medical Center: "Diabetes and Periodontal (Gum) Disease."
Cleveland Clinic: "Your Guide to Managing Diabetes."
American Dental Association: "Diabetes," "Cleaning Your Teeth and Gums." "Consumer Resources," "Diabetes tips for good oral health," "Smoking and Tobacco Cessation," "Cancer, Oral."
Greater St. Louis Dental Hygienists' Association: "What is Plaque and Tartar?"
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research: "Periodontal (Gum) Disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments"
National Caregivers Library: "Mouth Care and Diabetes."
University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics: "Thrush."
Metzer, B. American Medical Association Guide to Living With Diabetes, John Wiley and Sons, 2006.
National Institutes of Health: "Smoking - tips on how to quit."
Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: "Diabetes and Your Oral Health."
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC): "What I need to know about Physical Activity and Diabetes."
International Diabetes Federation: "Diabetes and Oral Health - Information for the Public."

Reviewed by Michael Friedman, DDS on February 01, 2017

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.