How does diabetes affect gum disease?

Carol Jahn

People who have diabetes are generally more susceptible to gum inflammation and about 3 times more likely to have periodontal disease. Those who are the most affected are people who have a hard time controlling their blood sugar. Even if you have good blood sugar control, dental plaque may still cause more gum inflammation than in someone without diabetes.

Diabetes affects gum disease, also called periodontal disease, because with diabetes, the body becomes more prone to infection. Gum disease seems to get worse when blood sugar is not well controlled. You may be wondering how your blood sugar levels and your gums could possibly be connected. The connection is this: the bacteria that live in your mouth love sugar. People with diabetes often have higher levels of sugar in their body, which means that the bacteria in their mouth have more sugar to work with and can cause more damage.

People with diabetes sometimes have more gum bleeding, gum infections and other dental problems. It’s important to see a dentist regularly if you have diabetes. In addition, if you experience problems such as your gums are bleeding more easily and frequently, or you have unusually swollen and tender gums, see your dentist. Other reasons you should see your dentist in-between visits would include finding pus in your gums, having bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth, changes in the way your teeth or dentures fit together, loose teeth, bite changes, or your gums start separating from your teeth. These are all dental problems that can be caused by diabetes.

If you have diabetes and want to know more about how to prevent gum disease, talk to your doctor or dentist. Prevention is often as easy as daily brushing and flossing and regular check-ups with your dentist.

Dr. Todd A. Welch, DMD

Just as diabetes can increase a patient’s chance of developing periodontal disease, research suggests that periodontal disease may make it more difficult for people who have diabetes to control their blood sugar. Periodontal disease increases the body’s systemic inflammatory signals that serve to increase blood sugar. This contributes to increased periods of time when the body functions with an unhealthy blood sugar level. Consequently, it is important for people with diabetes to treat periodontal disease to eliminate the infection for optimal metabolic control.

Periodontal disease is a leading complication of diabetes mellitus; therefore, it is important for people with diabetes to know their treatment options. If detected early, a periodontist can provide treatment that can stop the gum disease and bring the gums back to a state of health, preventing additional tooth bone loss. In fact, periodontal treatment has been shown to improve diabetic blood sugar levels in people with diabetes, suggesting that treating patients’ periodontal disease could decrease insulin requirements.

If diabetes is well controlled, treatment will be similar to the treatment of someone who doesn’t have diabetes. In the early stages of gum disease, treatment usually includes periodontal scaling and root planing, a procedure in which plaque and calculus are removed from the pockets around the tooth and near the gums. People with diabetes may want to schedule their dental appointments early in the morning after they have eaten a normal breakfast in order to stabilize and prevent a severe or sudden drop in blood sugar levels. Upon determining a treatment plan, your periodontist and physician will work together to help you control both your diabetes and gum disease.

Diabetes makes your body more prone to infections and slows your body's healing process. Gum disease is an infection of the gums. Diabetics should closely monitor their blood glucose levels to keep their diabetes under control. Dentally, they should use good brushing and flossing daily to keep plaque from building up around their teeth. Plaque buildup can lead to gum disease or worsen existing gum disease.

In addition, diabetics should have regular dental exams and cleanings. If gum disease is diagnosed, it should be treated by your dentist. After treatment it is important to use good flossing and brushing daily and follow up with your dentist at regular intervals. With proper dental care the effects of gum disease can be minimized with diabetics.

People with diabetes are at a higher risk for gum disease and other dental problems. Diabetes may weaken your mouth and body's germ-fighting powers, and high blood glucose levels can make gum disease worse. At the same time, gum disease may make blood glucose levels harder to control.

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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.