Does diabetes increase the risk of dental problems?

Carol Jahn

The best way to know if you have oral health problems related to your diabetes is to see your dentist and dental hygienist on a regular basis. People with diabetes are about 3 times more likely to have gum disease especially those who have a hard time controlling their diabetes. Gum problems have been shown to start about 10-15 years earlier in people with diabetes—they have even been documented in teens and young adults.

The connection between diabetes and oral health is a strong one and goes both ways. People with diabetes are more likely to develop gum disease and tooth decay. With elevated blood glucose levels (diabetics are less able to control blood sugar due to a decrease in production of insulin by the pancreas) there is a decrease in the body's ability to fight infections and control inflammation. Conversely, oral disease such as gum disease and tooth decay hampers the body's ability to regulate blood sugar levels exacerbating or worsening the diabetic condition. In fact, the presence of oral disease has been linked up to a seven times greater chance of developing type 2 (adult onset) diabetes.

Diabetes (diabetes mellitus) does increase the chance of dental problems, including tooth decay, dry mouth, fungal infections (thrush) and gum disease. You can prevent dental problems by keeping your blood glucose well-managed. Check your blood sugar regularly and write down the number. Show your doctor the numbers at your next visit to make sure you are within safe limits. Also, eat a balanced diet. Lose weight if you are overweight. Exercise regularly, at least 30 minutes most days. Stop cigarette smoking, if you smoke. If you take diabetes pills, make sure you are compliant to your medication.

There are several signs that can alert you to the presence of oral health problems. Symptoms of gingivitis or periodontitis include gums that are reddish, swollen or bleeding, teeth that are exposed because the gum has pulled away, pus between gums and teeth, loose teeth, malodorous breath or variations in the fit of your dentures. Fungal infections can be recognized by the symptoms they produce, like red or white patches, dry mouth, the inability to taste, difficulty swallowing or a burning sensation on your tongue.

If you need guidance in managing your blood sugar, talk to a diabetes educator. If you want additional information on dental problems with diabetes, make an appointment to see your dentist soon.

See your dentist regularly and let the dentist know that you want to prevent problems. Your dentist will give you a dental exam and identify areas of concern such as tooth decay and/or gum disease. Managing your dental health means you must be diligent with tooth brushing, flossing and noticing any tooth or gum changes that could mean a more serious problem. At the first sign of a suspected problem, call your dentist and seek an accurate diagnosis and treatment.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.