Diabetes and Tooth Decay: How Diabetics Can Keep Their Smile Healthy

If you have diabetes, you’re more likely to have oral health problems such as cavities and gum disease. Diabetes lowers the body’s ability to resist infection and slows healing so anything your mouth is exposed to carries a higher likelihood of becoming problematic.

Diabetes & Your Oral Health

High blood sugar is hard on the teeth and gums. When blood sugar is elevated, there are more sugars and starches present in your mouth which become acidic and promote bacterial build-up. These bacteria combine with food to form a soft, sticky film called plaque. Plaque also comes from eating foods that contain sugars or starches. Some types of plaque cause tooth decay or cavities. Other types of plaque cause gum disease and bad breath. Overall, increased bacteria in your mouth can cause a host of oral issues that you should be watching for.

Gum disease. While gum disease can develop for any patient, it can be more severe and take longer to heal if you have diabetes. In turn, having gum disease can make your blood glucose hard to control.

Periodontal disease is the most common dental disease affecting those living with diabetes, affecting nearly 22% of diabetics. Especially with increasing age, poor blood sugar control increases the risk for gum problems. As with all infections, serious gum disease may cause blood sugar to rise. This makes diabetes harder to control because you are more susceptible to infections and are less able to fight the bacteria invading the gums.

When it comes to your gums, keeping them healthy and maintaining healthy blood sugar levels go hand in hand.

Dry mouth. Elevated blood sugar levels often result in dry mouth, which is uncomfortable, but also creates the opportunity for oral issues to develop. Saliva is key in protecting your mouth as saliva contains the enzymes that attack harmful bacteria and wash away particles left behind after eating and drinking.

Dry mouth can lead not only to sores and ulcers but can also increase your likelihood of developing tooth decay, gum disease and bacterial concerns like thrush.

Infection. Bacteria aren’t the only organisms that feed on sugar. Fungi do as well, which is why fungal infections such as thrush are common in people with diabetes.

Thrush can cause white or red patches on your tongue and inside your cheeks. Sometimes they turn into open sores. If you wear dentures, smoke or take antibiotics, you may be even more susceptible to getting yeast infections like thrush. The yeast thrives on the extra sugar in your saliva and especially likes moist spots in your mouth.

Burning Mouth Syndrome. Both thrush and dry mouth can lead to burning mouth syndrome. Burning mouth syndrome causes your mouth to feel like you just scalded it with coffee, or to tingle or feel numb. You can also lose some of your ability to taste.

While burning mouth syndrome isn’t really harmful, it can be quite alarming and discomforting, and can also cause you to add additional sugar and salt to your food due to the loss of taste, which can be harmful to your health.

Additionally, if you experience any of these other common oral concerns, you will want to visit your dentist as soon as possible:

  • A sore or ulcer that isn’t healing
  • Dark spots or holes on your teeth
  • Changes to your sense of taste or a bad taste in your mouth
  • Bad breath that doesn’t go away when you brush your teeth
  • Pain in your mouth, face or jaw that doesn’t go away
  • Loose teeth
  • Pain when chewing

Consequently, oral issues can also affect the rest of your body. With increasing scientific evidence, the connection between oral infections and other diseases in the body is becoming widely understood and accepted within the dental practice. Bacteria from infections in the gums can enter the bloodstream or airways and travel to other parts of the body. This bacteria has the potential to worsen or increase the risk for other types of health problems such as heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s and certain cancers. Since diabetics are already at an increased risk for complications, keeping your mouth in good health will ensure you are not further increasing your risk of chronic disease.

As you can see, it is especially important for diabetics to take excellent care of their oral health, which will also support better overall health. When you have diabetes, there are a few things you can do to ensure good oral health:

  • Manage your blood sugar consistently
  • Consume food and drinks that are low in sugar; Eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • Brush your teeth twice per day and use a toothpaste that contains xylitol
  • Floss daily
  • Watch for early signs of gum disease
  • Don’t smoke
  • Visit your dental team

When you visit your dentist regularly and communicate that you have diabetes, your dentist can provide additional support. They may recommend the following:

  • An anti-plaque or anti-gingivitis mouth rinse, such as the CTx products we offer in the clinic, to control plaque and prevent gum disease.
  • Removing plaque between teeth using a dental pick or brush which are thin tools designed to clean between the teeth.
  • Call your dentist right away if you have any symptoms of mouth problems discussed above.

While diabetes can impact your oral health, proper dental care coupled with well-managed blood sugar levels will give you a much better chance of avoiding common oral concerns experienced by many diabetics. In return, keeping a healthy mouth will support the health of the rest of your body and help you to maintain good blood sugar levels.

Follow the advice of your doctor and dentist – eat well, manage your sugar levels and take good care of your mouth and you will enjoy a healthy smile for many years to come.