Caring for Your Mouth When You Have Diabetes

Did you know that diabetes makes you more vulnerable to gum disease? What's more, gum disease can make it more difficult for people with diabetes to control their blood sugar. The result is a vicious cycle, with each disease making the other worse.

Why Are Diabetic Patients More At Risk?

Gum disease is an infection of the gum, bones and tissues that attach your teeth to your jaw bone. The disease is caused by plaque, which sticks to your teeth. If the plaque isn't removed daily by good brushing and flossing, it hardens into tartar, which collects more plaque. The bacteria in the plaque can then infect the gums. Tobacco makes these symptoms worse.

People with diabetes are two to four times more likely to develop gum disease, probably because they contract infections more easily. Their gum disease is also more severe, producing 50% more bone and tooth loss.1 People with poorly controlled diabetes are especially at risk.

Research shows that gum disease also makes it more difficult for people with diabetes to control their blood sugar.2 Gum disease increases inflammation, which can raise blood sugar levels. Also, the bacteria that cause the gum infection can aggravate the disease elsewhere in the body.

Treating Gum Disease

Common signs of gum disease include red and swollen gums that bleed when you brush or floss, gums that have pulled away from the teeth, bad breath, permanent teeth that become loose and changes in the way your teeth fit together.

In the early stages, your dentist can remove the collected plaque and tartar and smooth the root surfaces. If the gum disease is more advanced, additional treatments may be necessary. Patients with poorly controlled diabetes may need treatments tailored to their condition, since they often heal more slowly.

Tips to Keep Gums and Teeth Healthy

  • Always brush with a soft toothbrush after eating
  • Floss every day
  • If you wear dentures, keep them clean
  • Have your teeth professionally cleaned at least twice a year
  • Let your dentist know about any mouth problems you're having
  • If you use tobacco, talk to your doctor about quitting

Keeping your gums healthy will make it easier to control your diabetes. And controlling your diabetes will make it easier to avoid or manage gum disease. It's a win-win solution.

The information provided is for educational purposes only.

1. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, Periodontal (Gum) Disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments, NIH Publication No. 11-1142, July 2011, no copyright

2. American Academy of Periodontology, Gum Disease and Diabetes, last modified: February 23, 2011