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Protect Your Teeth and Gums From Diabetes

What's the connection between diabetes and a healthy smile? According to dental experts, blood sugar plays a key role.

"The bacteria that live in your mouth love sugar," explains William DeVizio, DMD. "People with diabetes often have higher levels of sugar in their body, which means the bacteria in their mouth have more sugar to work with and can cause more damage."

Says Jonathon P. Levine, DDS, a New York dentist and associate professor at the NYU school of dentistry, high blood sugar makes your teeth and gums more sensitive, speeding up pre-existing gum disease. Greater sensitivity makes your gums and teeth more prone to inflammation and infection, which can gradually erode the tissues that keep your teeth firmly in place. In addition to gum disease, certain fungal diseases such as thrush (an oral yeast infection) are also more common.

What do the American Dental Association and the American Diabetes Association have to say about all of this? According to both, dental health is a two-way street: Diabetes makes gum disease more likely, but preventing and treating it can have a positive effect on blood sugar control, improving diabetes and overall health.

To keep your entire mouth in tip-top condition, read on—here's how to get a healthier smile and a healthier you:

Treat your pearly whites with care. Be extra careful with your morning and evening teeth-cleaning routine. Brush and floss carefully using a fluoride toothpaste, and use a gum-stimulating rubber pick between your teeth to prevent plaque buildup. Your dentist may also recommend using an antimicrobial mouthwash for additional germ protection.

Make friends with your dentist. Inflammation can come on quickly when you have diabetes, so you'll need to see your dentist more often than you normally would, says Levine. Visit your dentist at least every four months for cleanings and at least twice a year for checkups. Cleanings remove deposits that make it harder to keep teeth clean. Checkups allow your dentist to check for and, if needed, treat gum disease.

Practice good blood sugar control. To keep sugar levels in your mouth as low as possible—and keep bacteria at bay—do all you can to manage your blood sugar. Eat right, take medications, and follow all instructions from your diabetes healthcare team.

Watch for dental problems. See your dentist right away if you notice any of these important danger signs:

  • Red, swollen, or sore gums
  • Bleeding gums
  • Teeth that feel loose or have moved noticeably in position
  • Changes in your bite, such as teeth starting to hit together when you chew
  • Persistent bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth that doesn't go away with brushing
  • Bridges or dentures that no longer fit correctly
  • An infected or pus-filled area between teeth

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