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How diabetes affects teeth

If you have diabetes, you need to take good care of your mouth.

If you have diabetes, you probably know it can harm your heart, kidneys and eyes.

But the disease can also damage your mouth.

Diabetes increases a person's risk of periodontal diseases (infections of the teeth and gums), according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). These mouth problems magnify if you do not properly monitor and control your blood sugar.

Diabetes and dental trouble

When people with diabetes have too much sugar in their blood for a long time, the risk of serious health problems increases. Dental problems caused by diabetes may include:

Plaque. High blood sugar helps germs and bacteria grow and increases your chances of developing plaque, a sticky film on the teeth. Plaque comes from food, saliva and germs. It is a major cause of tooth and gum diseases.

Mouth problems. If you have diabetes, you may also be at risk for thrush—an infection caused by fungus in the mouth—or dry mouth, which can increase your risk of tooth decay, mouth soreness, ulcers and infections.

Signs of tooth trouble

The first sign of tooth and gum disease is infected gums. If the infection gets really bad, you can lose your teeth or have to undergo oral surgery.

If you have one or more of the following problems, you may have tooth and gum damage:

  • Red, sore or swollen gums.
  • Bleeding gums.
  • Gums pulling away from your teeth so that your teeth look long.
  • Loose or sensitive teeth.
  • Bad breath.
  • A change in the way your bite feels.
  • Dentures or false teeth that do not fit well.

While there are warning signs, gum disease can also be painless. You may not know you have gum disease until it has caused serious damage.

To help avoid dental trouble, check your teeth and gums on a regular basis. If you have symptoms of tooth or gum damage, call your dentist right away.

What you can do

Having diabetes doesn't mean you have to get tooth and gum diseases. When diabetes is under control, it doesn't increase the risk of mouth problems at all.

The NIH recommends that people with diabetes take the following measures to prevent tooth and gum diseases:

  • Keep your blood sugar as close to normal as possible.
  • Make sure your dentist knows that you have diabetes.
  • Visit your dentist at least once every six months.
  • Use dental floss at least once a day to prevent the buildup of plaque on your teeth. Floss with a sawing motion, gently bringing the floss between the teeth, scraping from bottom to top several times.
  • Brush your teeth after every meal and snack. Use a soft toothbrush. Turn the bristles against the gum line and brush gently, using small, circular motions. Brush the front, back and top of each tooth.
  • Ask the person who cleans your teeth for brushing and flossing advice.
  • If you wear dentures, keep them clean.
  • Don't smoke. Smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to develop gum disease.

Learn more

For more information on dental care for people with diabetes, contact the American Diabetes Association at 800.342.2383 or visit their website.

Reviewed 12/13/2021

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