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Diabetes can harm your oral health, increasing your risk of gum disease and cavities. Furthermore, poor oral health can make diabetes worse.
Typically, we think of elevated blood glucose as a sign of diabetes. However, diabetes can also affect your production of saliva in two ways:
It increases the amount of glucose in your saliva. This glucose provides food for bacteria that cause plaque, cavities, and gum disease.
It reduces the amount of saliva you produce. This can also be a side effect of some of the medicines you will eventually take.
Also called periodontal gum disease, it can progress from inflamed gums to tooth loss. Having high blood glucose levels aggravates gum disease. Eventually, teeth can become loose, and your dentist may have to remove them.
Dental cavities are holes or structural damage to the teeth. Bacteria and food create plaque, which builds up on your teeth if not removed by brushing. The acids in plaque break down the enamel on your teeth, causing damage. Untreated cavities can cause an abscess, a potentially dangerous infection.
A Dry mouth is when you produce insufficient saliva. This can cause sores and ulcers and contribute to gum disease. It can cause unpleasant symptoms such as cracked lips and trouble swallowing or speaking.
Thrush is a fungal infection of the mouth that produces painful, white patches on the inner cheeks, tongue, roof of the mouth, and throat. You have to treat it with antifungal medications.
Diabetes does not directly increase your risk of cracked or broken teeth. However, it increases the probability of you developing a large cavity, which can eventually cause the tooth to break. Tooth restorations are particularly likely to cause a fracture.
In addition to the problems listed above, diabetes can cause other mouth and throat problems:
Because people with diabetes are susceptible to tooth decay, they are also vulnerable to halitosis, otherwise known as bad breath. This can affect self-esteem and interpersonal relationships.
Additionally, diabetes can cause ketoacidosis, when your body starts burning fat instead of glucose. This can cause your breath to smell like pear drops or acetone. Metformin can also cause bad breath.
BMS¹ is an unpleasant condition that causes burning, tingling, or scalding pain in the mouth. It can also cause a feeling of numbness that comes and goes. BMS can affect your ability to taste food properly. Dry mouth or a yeast infection in your mouth may also cause it.
Pain typically reduces when eating and drinking. BMS is not associated with a visible mouth problem, but you should still talk to your dentist. Some medications can reduce BMS, but the best way to get rid of it is to get your blood sugar under control.
This can make it harder to follow your diet and eat healthily.
Keeping your blood sugar under control is the best way to prevent these issues from developing. Additionally, you should practice good oral hygiene. Ideally, you should clean your teeth after every meal, not just twice a day.
You should also talk to your dentist about oral habits such as tooth grinding, which can worsen your oral health and aggravate any issues caused by diabetes.
You should get a dental exam at least once a year and talk to your dentist about your diabetes. They may recommend more frequent exams or cleanings. You will probably need cleanings every four to six months if you have periodontal disease. Make sure your dentist sends the exam results to the rest of your care team.
You should see your dentist if you have any of the following symptoms:
Red, inflamed gums
Bleeding gums when you eat or brush your teeth
Any pain in your mouth
Sores or ulcers in your mouth
White patches on any part of your mouth
Bad breath that does not go away when you brush your teeth. (If your breath smells of acetone, you need to see your doctor right away)
Difficulty chewing, swallowing, or speaking
A feeling of dryness in your mouth or throat
Increasing spaces between your teeth
Talk to your dentist and doctor about anything else you should watch for. Remember, you can reduce oral health issues by keeping your blood glucose under control. Make sure to choose a dentist who has experience treating people with diabetes.
Other than keeping your blood sugar under control, the following tips can help you take care of your mouth and teeth.
Brush at least twice a day, ideally after every meal. Some people find they can brush better with an electric toothbrush. Use a soft brush.
Floss at least once a day. Your dentist may recommend flossing twice a day if you have early signs of gum disease. If you find flossing annoying, you can use an interdental device or try a water flosser.
If you wear dentures or partials, be sure to clean them every day.
Avoid acidic beverages such as soda, as they can increase enamel wear. Keep them to an occasional treat, and avoid brushing right after drinking soda, as it can press acid further into the teeth. This is a particular problem if you have a dry mouth.
Consider chewing sugarless gum to encourage saliva production. Eating cheese produces saliva, as do foods high in fiber. Be careful with high-fat cheeses.
Talk to your dentist about specific tips and how to take care of your oral health to the fullest.
Diabetes does not directly cause chipped, cracked, or fractured teeth. However, it can significantly impact your oral health, potentially aggravating cavities development, which can become large enough to cause teeth to break.
If you have diabetes, practice good oral health and see your dentist regularly. Getting your blood glucose under control is the best thing you can do to preserve your oral health.
Burning mouth syndrome | National Institute of Health
Periodontal (Gum) disease | National Institute of Health
Candida infections of the mouth, throat, and esophagus | Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Diabetes and you: Healthy Teeth Matter! | Center for Disease Control and Prevention