Teeth Need Extra Care with Diabetes

Many adults in the United States have some type of gum disease that can affect their ability to eat and can cause pain in the mouth.  If you have diabetes, you may be at increased risk of developing gum disease.

Gum disease is caused by germs known as bacteria that live in our mouths.  These germs combine with mucus and other small particles to make a sticky, colorless substance called plaque.  Plaque forms on the surface of the teeth.  If it is left there, it can become hardened and form tartar.  Regular brushing and flossing can help get rid of plaque. Once plaque hardens, a dentist or dental hygienist will need to remove it.

Plaque and tartar are harmful for teeth because they can cause inflammation in the gums known as gingivitis.  This condition can make the gums red, swollen, and sore, and can make them bleed easily.  Gingivitis is a mild type of gum disease.  Daily brushing and flossing and regular visits to the dentist can help prevent or clear up gingivitis.

But if gingivitis is left untreated, it can become more serious inflammation known as periodontal disease that causes the gums to pull away from the teeth.  Spaces known as pockets can form around the teeth and allow infections to grow.  Bacteria in the pockets can start to break down the surface of the teeth and cause cavities.  They can also break down the bone in the jaw as well as the connective tissues that hold teeth in place.

The body’s immune system reacts to infections to try to eliminate them. But this process can also damage the bones and connective tissue around the teeth.  If enough damage is done, the teeth can become loose and may eventually have to be removed.

Having diabetes increases the risk of serious gum infections that may lead to loose or missing teeth.  People who have diabetes are generally at higher risk of developing infections, including gum disease.  Infections are also sometimes harder to heal for people with diabetes.

Having high blood glucose levels can make tooth and gum problems even worse.  High blood sugar provides extra food for germs which helps the infection grow.   So problems with gum disease are more likely if your blood sugar is not well controlled.

Diabetes can also cause dry mouth, which results when the body does not produce enough saliva or spit.  Saliva is important to keep your mouth moist which makes talking and eating easier and more comfortable.   If your blood sugar is high, the sugar level in your saliva may also be higher than normal.

The combination of dry mouth and extra sugar in saliva can lead to the growth of a fungal infection in the mouth known as thrush, which can cause painful white sore patches in the mouth.

Watch for these warning signs that you may have gum disease:

  • Red or swollen gums
  • Bleeding gums or sore gums
  • Bad breath that won’t go away
  • Pain when chewing
  • Teeth that are sensitive or loose
  • Gums that appear pulled back from the teeth or teeth that look “longer”

If you have diabetes, you can help protect your mouth from periodontal disease by following these tips:

  • Keep your blood sugar under control.
  • Floss your teeth at least once a day to reduce the buildup of plaque or tartar.
  • Brush your teeth with a soft toothbrush every time you eat.
  • Keep dentures clean.
  • Check your mouth monthly for the signs of gum disease.
  • Visit your dentist regularly and make sure he knows you have diabetes.
  • Tell your dentist if you have sore spots on your gums or if your dentures don’t fit correctly.
  • Do not smoke.

Taking care of your mouth now can protect your teeth and help prevent future problems or pain.

Denise DeWitt is a freelance writer for EmpowHER.com.



National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. Prevent diabetes problems: Keep your teeth and gums healthy. Web. February 20, 2012.


National Diabetes Education Program. Working Together to Manage Diabetes: A Guide to Podiatrists, Optometrists, and Dental Professionals. Web. February 20, 2012.


National institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Periodontal (Gum) Disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments. Web. February 20, 2012.


National institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Diabetes: Dental Tips. Web. February 20, 2012.


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