How should I care for my teeth if I have diabetes?

Carol Jahn

If you have diabetes and have never flossed or not flossed in a long time, it may be challenging to effectively floss due to possible inflammation and bleeding. If you have swollen tissue, it can be hard to get the floss between the teeth. You want to avoid snapping the floss into the tissue can causing trauma.

One product that has been tested and found safe and effective for people with diabetes is a Water Flosser. At the lowest setting it can provide a gentle cleansing action for a soothing effect. As you mouth becomes healthier, you can increase the pressure as comfortable. A study at the University of Buffalo found that people who had diabetes and used a Water Flosser and 44% less bleeding and 41 percent less gingivitis when they used a Water Flosser.

Brushing your teeth twice a day is important for everyone. The best way to brush your teeth is to brush each tooth surface, clean in between all the teeth, and then stimulate the gum tissue around each tooth. Cleaning your teeth like this helps to disrupt the plaque and bacteria that continually form on the teeth and gums. These bacteria are a natural part of the mouth and will form even if you don't eat any food. Set up the best times during the day to brush your teeth. Make these times a habit. Allow from 2 to 3 minutes to brush your teeth to make sure they are all clean. Be sure to replace your toothbrush every 3 to 4 months so you have a good cleaning utensil for brushing your teeth.

To floss your teeth effectively, you'll need about 15- to 18-inches of clean dental floss. Some people prefer the waxed dental floss, while others like to use the unwaxed type. You need to wind the floss around the middle fingers of both hands until all that's left is about one or two inches of floss. Holding tightly to the floss, you can slide the floss between your teeth. Be sure you go around the tooth base to remove any food or debris and to keep the gums clean. Avoid pushing on the gum as you can cause an injury. After you have flossed one tooth, you can continue on to do the rest of the teeth. As you do so, move the floss in your hand so you have clean sections of floss for each tooth. Be sure to get the back molars as these are sometimes difficult to reach. If you are unsure how to floss effectively, ask your dentist or dental hygienist for a demonstration.

A toothbrush can only clean one or two teeth at a time. Allow about three minutes of brushing to clean all your teeth well:

  • Use a brush with soft bristles and rounded ends. Soft bristles are less likely to hurt your gums.
  • Angle the brush against the gum line, where teeth and gums meet.
  • Move the brush back and forth with short strokes. Use a gentle, scrubbing motion.
  • Brush the outside surfaces of the teeth. Do the same for the backs of the teeth and chewing surfaces.
  • Brush the rough surface of your tongue to remove germs and freshen your breath.
  • Remember to brush your gums too.
  • Get a new toothbrush when the bristles are worn or bent, about every 3-4 months.

Few people really enjoy flossing. But if you don't floss, you're only doing half the job of cleaning your teeth and gums. Flossing cleans away plaque and bits of food from between your teeth and below the gum line. It gets places your brush can't reach. Floss once a day:

  1. Break off 18 inches of floss and wind most of it around one of your middle fingers. Wind the rest around the same finger of the other hand.
  2. Hold the floss tightly between your thumbs and index fingers. Leave about an inch between them.
  3. Use a gentle sawing motion to get the floss between your teeth. Never snap the floss into the gums.
  4. When you get the floss to the gum line, curve it into a C-shape against one tooth. Scrape up and down on the sides of each tooth to remove plaque.
  5. As floss gets worn and dirty, move to a clean section and continue. Don't forget the backsides of your rear teeth.
  6. When you're done brushing and flossing, rinse your mouth with water.

If you have arthritis in your hands, trouble moving your fingers, or if you have bridgework in your mouth, a floss holder might help. Ask your dentist about tools to make flossing easier for you.

Flossing is a skill that must be learned and habit that must be developed. After you have mastered the "art" of flossing, often you may notice that your teeth and mouth just do not feel clean if you skip a day.

It is important to floss between all the teeth, not just those that are in the front or easy to reach. If you are having difficulty, ask your dental professional for instruction and help. If necessary other methods of interproximal cleaning (between the teeth) may be suggested.

People with diabetes should take the time to brush and floss regularly, brushing at least twice a day and flossing once. Everyone should practice good oral hygiene, but it is especially important for diabetics, because diabetes can have an effect on the periodontal (gum) health, and uncontrolled periodontal disease can have an effect on diabetes control.

It is essential to have routine recall examinations and cleaning of the teeth, along with performing good oral hygiene daily. In this way you will hopefully avoid problems before they become serious.

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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.