Patients with diabetes know that they have to actively monitor and manage their lifestyle and diet for health reasons. However, diabetes – and high blood sugar – can also impact your teeth and gums as well. Patients with either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes must take special care to manage their blood sugar levels in order to decrease their risk for tooth decay and gum disease.

How does diabetes impact my dental health?

Tooth Decay: Every mouth is made up of many types of bacteria. When food and beverage particles made up of starches and sugar come into contact with the bacteria, plaque forms on the teeth. If not removed, the plaque can damage the teeth and lead to cavities. Patients with diabetes have higher levels of blood sugar and therefore have a greater supply of sugar and starches in their mouths. This can lead to more acid doing damage to your teeth.

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Gingivitis: Diabetic patients have a more difficult time fighting bacteria. If the plaque isn’t removed daily through brushing and flossing, it can spread below the gum line, harden, and become tartar. This tartar will lead to irritation of the gums, leading to swelling, bleeding, and soreness. This stage of gum disease is known as gingivitis. If gingivitis is left untreated it can develop into periodontitis, which will further damage the gums and oral bone structure. Patients with diabetes are at greater risk because the body has less ability to fight infection and to aid in healing. Further, gum disease can cause diabetic patients’ blood sugar to rise.

As a diabetic patient, how can I prevent damage to my teeth and gums?

Patients with diabetes must first make a commitment to taking care of their overall health. With close blood sugar monitoring and by following your physician’s advice for managing your blood sugar level, you will be less likely to develop gum disease or cavities. It is also important that diabetic patients brush at least twice a day, but ideally after snacks and meals. Most dentists suggest using fluoride and avoiding rough scrubbing, because it irritates the gums. Patients should also be sure to floss and schedule regular checkups with your dentist. Between appointments, you should look at your mouth carefully for signs of gum disease and call your dentist if you notice redness, inflammation or bleeding.

Diabetes can make maintaining good oral health a challenge; however, with proper oral care and paying close attention to changes in the mouth, patients can enjoy healthy teeth and gums for a lifetime.

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