Diabetic Dental Care
When you have diabetes, high blood sugar can take a toll on your entire body — including your teeth and gums. But the prevention & protection of your teeth is in your hands. Learn what you’re up against and take charge of your dental health.
Tooth decay (cavities)
Your mouth naturally contains many types of bacteria. When starch and sugar in food and beverages come in contact with these bacteria, a sticky film known as plaque forms on your teeth. The acids in plaque attack the hard, outer surface of your teeth (enamel). This can lead to cavities. The higher your blood sugar level, the greater the supply of sugars and starches — thus more acid attacking your teeth.
Early gum disease (gingivitis)
Diabetes reduces your ability to fight bacteria, which can cause more plaque to build up on your teeth. If you don’t remove plaque by regularly brushing and flossing, it’ll harden under your gum-line into a substance called tartar (calculus). The longer the plaque and tartar remain on your teeth, the more they irritate the gingiva — the part of your gum around the base of your teeth. With time, your gums become swollen and bleed easily. This is gingivitis.
Advanced gum disease (periodontitis)
When left untreated, gingivitis can lead to a more serious infection called periodontitis, which destroys the soft tissue and bone that support your teeth. Eventually, periodontitis causes your gums to pull away from your teeth and your teeth to loosen and even fall out. Periodontitis tends to be more severe among people who have diabetes because diabetes lowers the ability to resist infection and slows healing. An infection such as periodontitis may also cause your blood sugar level to rise, which makes your diabetes more difficult to control. Preventing and treating periodontitis can help improve blood sugar control.
Proper dental care
To help prevent damage to your teeth and gums, take diabetes and dental care seriously
Make a commitment to manage your diabetes
Monitor your blood sugar level, and follow your doctor’s instructions for keeping your blood sugar level within your target range. The better you control your blood sugar level, the less likely you are to develop gingivitis and other dental problems.
Brush your teeth at least twice a day
Brush in the morning, at night and ideally after meals and snacks. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and toothpaste that contains fluoride. Avoid vigorous or harsh scrubbing, which can irritate your gums. Consider using an electric toothbrush, especially if you have arthritis or other problems that make it difficult to brush well.
Floss your teeth at least once a day
Flossing helps remove plaque between your teeth and under your gum-line. If you have trouble getting floss through your teeth, use the waxed variety. If it’s hard to manipulate the floss, use a floss holder.
Schedule regular dental cleanings
Visit your dentist at least twice a year for professional cleanings. Remind your dentist that you have diabetes. To prevent low blood sugar during the dental check-up, you might want to eat before your dental visits.
Take special precautions with dental surgery
If you’re having dental surgery, make sure that your dentist consults with your doctor in advance. You may need to adjust your diabetes medications or take an antibiotic to prevent infection.
Look for early signs of gum disease
Report any signs of gum disease — including redness, swelling and bleeding gums — to your dentist. Also mention any other signs and symptoms such as dry mouth, loose teeth or mouth pain.
Smoking increases the risk of serious diabetes complications, including gum disease. If you smoke, ask your doctor about options to help you quit. 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.