14 Tips for People Living with Diabetes to Ensure Good Oral Health

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Good oral hygiene is about much more than white teeth and a captivating smile. It tells the story of your overall well-being as dental issues left untreated can cause problems in other parts of your body.

Living with diabetes may put you at a higher risk for certain oral health conditions. However, you can take control and enjoy good oral health. You can do this by:
  • Exercising a few positive actions into your daily routine
  • Being proactive about contacting your dentist if you notice any changes to your teeth or gums
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Diabetes and Dental Care

1. Brush your teeth at least twice a day. Ideally, you want to brush with fluoride toothpaste in the morning, before bed, and after every meal. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and replace it at least every three months since worn out bristles are more abrasive on gums.

2. Floss your teeth at least once a day. Plaque buildup between teeth and under the gum line can lead to tooth decay and periodontal disease, a serious gum infection that diabetes makes you more susceptible to contracting.

3. Clean your dentures.  If you wear dentures, remove them at night and clean them in medicine approved by your dentist. This reduces the risk of infections such as thrush—a common complication for those who wear dentures.

4. Scrape your tongue daily. Bacteria can also buildup on your tongue. Brushing or scraping is a quick way to remove particles. As a bonus, this practice also combats bad breath.

5. See your dentist twice a year. Bi-annual visits for professional teeth and gum cleanings, check-ups, and X-rays are some of the best ways to ensure ongoing oral health. In some cases, your dentist may recommend more frequent visits. 

6. Tell your dentist you have diabetes. Dentists see many patients, so it never hurts to remind them of your health concerns. Make sure they’re aware of any medications you’re on and if there have been any changes in your health since your last visit.

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Diabetes Mouth Symptoms

7. Watch for signs of gum disease. If your gums are red, swollen, tender, or bleeding, these are early signs of gum disease, also known as periodontal disease. This serious tissue infection is caused by plaque buildup. If not treated early, it can destroy the bone that supports your teeth, leading to tooth loss. It can also raise blood sugar levels, making it doubly dangerous for those with diabetes.

8. Beware of delayed wound healing. Other mouth issues like cold sores, canker sores, or a cut in the mouth can also take longer to mend when you have diabetes. If something in your mouth isn’t healing, see your dentist.

9. Avoid Infections. You may be more prone to develop fungal infections like thrush, which thrives on sugar in the saliva, and moist areas like under dentures. Symptoms include painful white or red patches on your cheeks, gums, tongue, and roof of the mouth.

10. Be aware of higher risks. Research has shown that people with type 2 diabetes are around three times more likely to develop dental problems and those with type 1 diabetes are also at a higher risk. Having high blood sugar levels for an extended period leads to more sugar in the saliva, the ideal environment for bacteria to grow. Bacteria create acid that destroys tooth enamel and infects gums.

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Ways to Keep Your Smile Healthy with Diabetes

11. Don’t smoke. Smoking isn’t good for anyone, but smoking when you have diabetes puts you at a far greater risk of developing dental problems like periodontal disease. It can also affect blood flow to the gums, which could impair wound healing. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to help you quit.

12. Drink water to prevent dry mouth. A decrease in saliva flow is a common symptom of diabetes. This can cause all kinds of problems, from infections to tooth decay, so it’s important to stay hydrated.

13. Eat healthy. Vitamin C and magnesium are two nutrients that help the body fight infection and inflammation, which help fight periodontal disease. Citrus fruits, strawberries, red peppers, and broccoli are good sources of vitamin C. Spinach, whole grains, beans, and almonds will give you a good daily dose of magnesium.

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Managing Diabetes with Dental Care

14. Commit to managing your diabetes. Monitoring your blood sugar level, following your doctor’s advice for keeping your blood sugar in check, and practicing good oral hygiene are the best protection against tooth decay and other dental and mouth issues. People whose diabetes is controlled should have no more dental concerns than those without diabetes.

References

Mayo Clinic Staff. “Diabetes and dental care: Guide to a healthy mouth.” Mayo Clinic, November 3, 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/in-depth/diabetes/art-20043848.

Martin, Laura. Diabetes and Your Smile.” American Dental Association, https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/d/diabetes

Vernillo, Anthony T. “Dental considerations for the treatment of patients with diabetes mellitus.” Science Direct, The Journal of the American Dental Association, October 2003, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0002817714651965

Mohammed, Alsakran Altamimi. “Update knowledge of dry mouth- A guideline for dentists.” PMC, African Health Sciences, September 14, 2014, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4209628/

Kido, Daisuke, et al. “Impact of diabetes on gingival wound healing via oxidative stress.” PlosOne, December 21, 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5739411/

Mayo Clinic Staff. “Oral health: A window to your overall health.” Mayo Clinic, June 4, 2019, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/dental/art-20047475

“Diabetes, Gum Disease, & Other Dental Problems.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, September 2014, https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/gum-disease-dental-problems

Tapper Jones, LM, et al. “Candidal infections and populations of Candida albicans in mouths of diabetics.” BMJ Journals, Journal of Clinical Pathology, 1981, https://jcp.bmj.com/content/34/7/706.abstract

“Diabetes and Gum Disease.” Diabetes UK, https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/complications/gum-disease 

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