Diabetes puts you at risk for dental problems. It impairs the 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
Chronic bad breath
An irregular bite or dentures that don't fit well
Control Diabetes to Keep Your Smile
Well-controlled diabetes contributes to a healthy mouth. If you have poorly controlled or high blood sugar, your risk increases for dry mouth, gum disease, tooth loss, and fungal infections like thrush. Since infections can also make blood sugar rise, your diabetes may become even harder to control. Keeping your mouth healthy can help you manage your blood sugar.
See Your Dentist Regularly
People with diabetes are prone to 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 a dentist can teach you the best ways to care for your teeth and gums at home.
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. Having high blood sugar often makes gum disease worse.
Brush Daily, Brush Right
Brushing your teeth twice a day not only keeps your breath sweet, but also helps rid the mouth of bacteria that makes up plaque and can lead to oral infections. To brush properly, point bristles at a 45-degree angle against the 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.
Floss Every Day
Flossing helps control plaque. It can reach where a toothbrush can't, like between the teeth. Floss daily with 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, flossing gets easier with practice.
Take Care of Your Dentures
Loose-fitting or poorly maintained dentures can lead to gum irritation, sores, 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 and mouth sores that are tough to heal. And poorly maintained dentures can contribute to thrush, too. It's important to remove and clean dentures daily to help reduce your risk of infection.
Toss the Tobacco
Tobacco products -- including cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco, and pipes -- are bad for anyone's mouth. But if you have diabetes and you smoke, you are at even greater risk of developing gum disease. Tobacco can damage gum tissue and cause receding gums. It can also speed up bone and tissue loss, leading to lost teeth. Motivate yourself to quit. List your reasons for quitting, set a date, and get the support of family and friends.
Prepare for Oral Surgery
Well-controlled blood sugar reduces your risk 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.
4 Steps to Protect Your Health
The same steps that ensure a healthy mouth also help you manage diabetes.
Eat a healthy diet.
Keep up with your diabetes medications.
See your dentist regularly to reduce the risk of developing a serious problem.
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 oral symptoms that worry you, talk to your dentist right away.
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."
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, Inc. 2006.
National Institutes of Health: "Smoking - tips on how to quit."
Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: "Diabetes and Your Oral Health."
Colgate Professional: "Diabetes and Oral Health."
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, 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."
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.