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Diabetes and Dental Care


People who suffer from diabetes know that the disease affects the whole body, including the mouth. This makes dental care extremely important for people living with diabetes, as diabetics face higher risks for oral health problems due to blood sugar levels that are uncontrolled. Over 400 types of bacteria can live in a human’s mouth. Many of these bacteria thrive on sugars such as glucose (the sugar linked to diabetes). If a dental patient’s diabetes is uncontrolled, the white blood cells (our body’s main defense against bacteria in the mouth) become impaired and risks increase.

Gum infections can also impact insulin needs. Studies show that when a patient with diabetes has an infection, oftentimes they must increase their insulin dosage. Consistently, when gum disease or periodontal disease treatments were effective, the need for more insulin decreased.

Common Oral Health Problems Associated with Diabetes

Here’s a list of the most common oral health problems diabetic patients suffer from:

  • Tooth decay
  • Periodontal disease
  • Fungal infections
  • Salivary gland dysfunction (dry mouth)
  • Taste impairment
  • Inflammatory skin disease
  • Infections
  • Delayed healing

Your dentist and the dental staff should be aware of your diabetes to gain a better understanding and take greater care when treatment is happening. Dry mouth is a very common symptom of diabetes, especially if the diabetes is not under control. Dry mouth can lead to infections, ulcers, soreness and even tooth decay. Diabetes also causes blood cells to thicken, which in turn reduces the access of nutrients into the mouth and waste out of the mouth. Gum inflammation can lead to gingivitis and periodontal disease. Fungus thrives in sugars located in the mouth, and fungal infections are known to occur in the mouth and on the tongue. It’s very important to brush your tongue, even if you do not have diabetes or are not at risk for developing diabetes.

Dental Care Tips for Diabetics

If you are living with diabetes, or at risk for developing diabetes take a look at these dental care tips:

  • Brush after each meal
  • Brush with a soft bristle toothbrush
  • Keep control of your blood sugar levels
  • Update your dentist on your diabetes at each visit
  • Make sure you see your dentist regularly
  • Make sure your dentist and doctor have each other’s information
  • Give your dentist an updated list of medications you are on during each visit
  • Postpone dental care if diabetes is temporarily uncontrolled
  • Diabetics take longer to heal, keep that in mind
  • Ask about alternatives to corrective appliances that may cut your mouth or tongue
  • Smoking increases risk for periodontal disease by 20% in diabetics

People living with diabetes do not necessarily have to fall into the ‘bad oral health’ category associated with the disease. Practicing good oral health habits each day (brushing, flossing, etc), visiting the dentist regularly and keeping your diabetes under control can significantly reduce the chances of tooth loss or other types of oral problems.

Page updated February 2011



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