Around 34 million people living in the U.S. have diabetes. Studies show that every year, around 1.5 million more people are diagnosed, including an estimated 210,000 children and teens under 20 years old.
If you are living with diabetes, you may have heard that your dental health can suffer as a result. Here’s what you need to know about protecting your teeth and gums, and how taking extra-good care of your dental health can boost your overall health too.
How diabetes affects your mouth
- You may have less saliva, causing your mouth to feel dry. Because saliva helps cleanse away cavity-causing bacteria, you may experience more tooth decay.
- People with diabetes often find their gums are irritated and sensitive. You may notice that your gums bleed when you brush or floss. These are possible signs of early gum disease (gingivitis), which can be harmful to your overall health.
- Diabetes can also make it harder for you to taste your food, and increase the chances that small cuts or sores inside your mouth will become infected.
- Children living with diabetes often get their adult teeth sooner than their peers.
How diabetes leads to gum disease
With good dental care, including daily brushing and flossing, the bacteria inside our mouths are kept within healthy levels. But diabetes can upset the natural balance in our bodies, including our mouths. This often leads to periodontal disease, an ongoing condition that can harm your gums, nearby tissues and even your facial bones.
Periodontal disease is the most common dental concern for people living with diabetes, affecting nearly 22% of all people with Type I and Type II diabetes. Poor blood sugar control raises risks for gum problems, especially as we age. And this can set up a vicious cycle, since serious gum disease can cause blood sugar to rise, making diabetes even harder to control and elevating your risks for infection.
Working with your dentist to manage diabetes-related issues
If you have diabetes, regular dental visits are a must. Research suggests that treating gum disease can help improve blood sugar control, slowing down the progression of your disease.
Having deep cleanings in your dentist’s office can actually help reduce your HbA1c (the lab result that shows your average level of blood sugar over the previous three months). Ask your dentist how often you should come in for cleanings and checkups — and make all dental appointments a top priority.
Partnering with your dentist to manage diabetes-related issues
Your dental health will benefit from each step you take to control your diabetes symptoms. Here’s a checklist of what you and your dentist can do as a team to protect your teeth and gums.
- Use your diabetes medications as directed to control your blood sugar levels.
- Eat a healthy diet and get plenty of physical activity.
- Avoid tobacco use. Keep in mind that both smoking and smokeless tobacco can be harmful to your dental health.
- If you have dentures or removable bridgework, clean them thoroughly every day.
- Always brush twice a day for at least two minutes each time, using a soft-bristled brush. Morning and evening are the best times to brush.
- Clean between your teeth once a day with regular floss or a special flossing tool.
More helpful resources
Learn how to manage your diabetes ABCs.
Explore healthy living tips from the American Diabetes Association.