Dental Health and Diabetes

The link between diabetes and dental health problems is high blood sugar. Maintaining your dental health and diabetes is a life long commitment but worth it in the long run.

According to the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation, In the United States alone, 34.2 million people, or 10.5% of the U.S. population, have diabetes. An estimated 26.8 million people – or 10.2% of the population – had diagnosed diabetes. Additionally, about 7.3 million people have diabetes but don’t know it yet! 

Dental health and diabetes

What is Diabetes?

When you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use its own insulin as well as it should. This causes sugars to build up in your blood. For this reason, many people refer to diabetes as “sugar.”

All food you eat is turned to sugar and used for energy. In Type I diabetes, the body doesn’t make enough insulin, a hormone that carries sugar from your blood to the cells that need it for energy. In Type II diabetes, the body stops responding to insulin. Both cases result in high blood sugar levels, which can cause problems with your eyes, nerves, kidneys, heart and other parts of your body.

So what does this have to do with that smile of yours — and how can you protect it? First, it’s important to understand the signs of diabetes and the roles they play in your mouth.

The Symptoms of Untreated Diabetes

The warning signs of diabetes affect every part of your body. After a blood test, you may be told by a doctor that you have high blood sugar. You may feel excessively thirsty or have to urinate a lot. Weight loss and fatigue are other common symptoms. Additionally, diabetes can cause you to lose consciousness if your blood sugar falls too low.

If diabetes is left untreated, it can take a toll on your mouth as well.

Common Dental Health Issues For People With Diabetes

Diabetes can cause various dental health problems, including:

Periodontal (Gum) Disease

Periodontal (gum) disease is caused by an infection that destroys the bone surrounding and supporting your teeth. This bone holds your teeth into your jawbone and allows you to chew comfortably. Bacteria and food debris called dental plaque is essential for gum disease.
If left on teeth and gums, plaque hardens to form calculus or tartar. The plaque and calculus irritate the gums around teeth so they become red, swollen and bleed. As gum disease progresses, more bone is lost. Teeth become loose and may fall out by themselves or may need to be removed.
Gum disease is more common and more severe in people with suboptimal blood glucose levels. This is because they generally have lower resistance to infection and reduced healing capacity.
It is important to look after your oral health and control your blood glucose levels to prevent gum disease. It is a two-way street. Treating gum disease helps to improve blood glucose levels in people living with diabetes, and people with optimal blood glucose levels respond very well to dental treatment.

If you notice any signs or symptoms of gum disease, contact your dentist immediately. These symptoms include:
-red, swollen, tender, bleeding gums
-a persistent discharge (pus) coming from the gums
-gums that are loose and pull away from the teeth
-a bad taste or bad breath
-loose teeth – this can change the ‘feel’ of your bite when your teeth are placed together or may make dentures fit differently
-spaces opening up between your teeth.

Gum Abscesses

An abscess is a pocket of pus that can develop on many parts of your body, including the inside of your mouth. Some people develop a tooth abscess that affects the area surrounding the tooth. But sometimes, an abscess can form on the gums.
Also called a periodontal abscess, a gum abscess is a painful condition that can lead to serious complications. It’s important to recognize the signs of a gum abscess and get medical treatment if you develop one.

Tooth Decay

Cavities, also called tooth decay or caries, are permanently damaged areas in the hard surface of your teeth that develop into tiny openings or holes. This is caused by a combination of factors, including bacteria in your mouth, frequent snacking, sipping sugary drinks and not cleaning your teeth well.
Cavities and tooth decay are among the world’s most common health problems. They’re especially common in children, teenagers and older adults. But anyone who has teeth can get cavities, including infants.
People living with diabetes may have more glucose in their saliva and very dry mouths. These conditions allow dental plaque to build up on teeth, which leads to tooth decay and cavities.


Oral thrush happens when a yeast infection develops inside your mouth. It’s also known as oral candidiasis, oropharyngeal candidiasis, or simply thrush.

Mouth Ulcers

Mouth ulcers — also known as canker sores — are normally small, painful lesions that develop in your mouth or at the base of your gums. They can make eating, drinking, and talking uncomfortable.

Taste Disturbances

Taste disturbances vary person to person. For some, it changes the way something tastes. For others, it removes the taste completely.

gum disease

Are People with Diabetes More Prone to Gum Disease?

All people have more tiny bacteria living in their mouth now than there are people on this planet. If they make their home in your gums, you can end up with periodontal disease. This chronic, inflammatory disease can destroy your gums, all the tissues holding your teeth and even your bones.

Periodontal disease is the most common dental disease affecting those living with diabetes, affecting nearly 22% of those diagnosed. Especially with increasing age, poor blood sugar control increases the risk for gum problems. In fact, people with diabetes are at a higher risk for gum problems because of poor blood sugar control. 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 To Visit The Dentist

In general, morning appointments are advised in patients with diabetes since endogenous cortisol levels are typically higher at this time; because cortisol increases blood sugar levels, the risk of hypoglycemia is less. For patients using short- and/or long-acting insulin therapy, appointments should be scheduled so they do not coincide with peak insulin activity, which increases the risk of hypoglycemia.

How Dental Health Can Help You Fight Diabetes

Regular dental visits are important. Research suggests that treating gum disease can help improve blood sugar control in patients living with diabetes, decreasing the progression of the disease. Practicing good oral hygiene and having professional deep cleanings done by your dentist can help to lower your HbA1c. (This is a lab test that shows your average level of blood sugar over the previous three months. It indicates how well you are controlling your diabetes.)

Flossing Teeth

Your Dental Health and Diabetes Action Plan

Teamwork involving self-care and professional care from your dentist will be beneficial in keeping your healthy smile as well as potentially slowing progression of diabetes. Here are five oral health-related things you can do to for optimal wellness:

Control your blood sugar levels.

Use your diabetes-related medications as directed, changing to a healthier diet and even exercising more can help. Good blood sugar control will also help your body fight any bacterial or fungal infections in your mouth and help relieve dry mouth caused by diabetes.

The better you control your blood sugars, the less likely you are to develop gingivitis and other dental problems.

Avoid smoking.

It has been proven that smoking causes poor blood flow, retinopathy, peripheral neuropathy, and kidney and heart disease. If you smoke, ask your doctor about options to help you quit.

Cleaning your dentures daily.

If you wear any type of denture, clean it each day as advised by your doctor.

Brush your teeth at least two times a day.

Brush in the morning, at night and, ideally, after meals and snacks. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and toothpaste. Avoid harsh scrubbing that can irritate your gums.
Consider an electric toothbrush, especially if you have an ailment that can make it difficult to brush well. Replace your toothbrush at least every three months.
Flossing daily is also advised. Using floss helps remove plaque between your teeth and under the gumline.

Avoid having a dry mouth.

Drink plenty of water and chew sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva production.

See your dentist regularly.

Visit your dentist at least twice a year for professional cleanings, X-rays and checkups.

Brushing Teeth

Dental Health and Diabetes In Conclusion

Managing diabetes is a lifelong commitment, and that includes proper dental care. Your efforts will be rewarded with a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums. For any questions or help managing your dental health with diabetes, contact your dentist for personalized tips and guidance.

Contact our offices in Alexandria, VA and McLean, VA with questions you have for managing your dental health with diabetes.