Diabetes and Oral Health

Diabetes and Oral Health

Diabetes is a killer, and it is linked to eating, lifestyle and now, the mouth. Besides managing their blood sugar levels, type 1 and type 2 diabetics have to take extra care with preventing gum disease, tooth decay and other oral infections. 

With high blood sugar levels, white blood cells are weakened, which means that your body struggles to fight infections. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if the sugar level is high in your blood, it is high in your saliva too. Sugar feeds the bacteria in plaque, the film that builds up on your teeth, gums, tongue and oral cavity’s soft tissue surfaces.


For people with diabetes, any infection is hard to get rid of, especially in the mouth. The bacteria spreads down the oesophagus into the stomach and gut lining, usually leading to candida, a yeast infection. 

In the mouth, candida manifests as a fungal infection thrush. People with diabetes with poor sugar level control are prone to developing thrush. 

The signs of oral thrush are; white patches in the mouth, a red and inflamed tongue, a fishy breath smell and cracked skin at the corners of the mouth. 

Just as worrying is that people with diabetes are prone to cholesterol build-up in the bloodstream, which inevitably leads to a higher risk of heart disease. 

Through the prevalence of gum inflammation and infection, oral bacteria seeps into the blood system, leading to blockages in the blood vessels, reducing the blood flow to the heart. 

Symptoms of dental problems

According to Diabetes.co.uk, if your gums are; sore, red, swollen, bleeding, receding, loose teeth, bad breath and your mouth are dry due to certain diabetic medicines – take heed. These are all signs of gum disease.

With people with diabetes, gum diseases are usually present when there are prolonged high blood glucose levels. Sugar feeds bacterial infection, and healing takes a long time. 

There are three stages of gum disease, progressing from mild to severe:

  • Gingivitis is stage 1, and the gums are swollen, red and tender and usually bleeds with brushing. Caused by the neglect of oral hygiene and lack of plaque removal from the teeth, gingivitis is reversible through improving oral hygiene techniques and getting help from your dentist.
  • Mild periodontitis is stage 2 and is the progression from untreated gingivitis. This is common among people with a family history of gum disease, poor oral hygiene and uncontrolled diabetes. Gums and bone supporting the teeth are damaged, and only a quick visit to the dentist could halt the progression of the disease.
  • Severe periodontitis is the most extreme stage, with significant tissue and bone loss around the teeth. 

Dental treatment and blood sugar levels

Never put off a visit to the dentist, and always inform the dentist that you have diabetes because your medical history needs to be reviewed, and they need to check your vital signs before they can begin dental work. 

This risk is that you will go into hypoglycaemia, and they need to be prepared to assist patients who are maybe in the process of losing consciousness.  

They check for signs of uncontrolled diabetes, usually by noting the presence of oral diseases including xerostomia – dry mouth; burning sensation in the mouth, poor wound healing; severity of infections, secondary infections such as candidiasis, parotid salivary gland enlargement, gingivitis or periodontitis. 

Self-help dental tips

Prevention is always better than cure, so do stop sneaking bites of sugary, oily, salty snacks, soft drinks and alcohol. Take care to eat a balanced approved diabetic diet and also commit to a daily exercise routine. 

And quit smoking because the habit not only worsens diabetes but is a leading cause of gum disease. 

Instead of that one last smoke or sip of beer, water should be the only drink you take to your bedside at night. That’s after brushing your teeth, the last brushing being the most critical brushing for the day.

Other dental habits should include flossing to remove the plaque from your teeth and brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste for the full two minutes. Also, consider practising oil-pulling with coconut oil, and this rids the mouth of plaque build-up.

And during your annual dental check-ups, ask your oral hygienist or your dentist about the best techniques for taking care of teeth and gums in people with diabetes. 

Dental care

Always check with your dentist before changing your oral care routine. 

A healthy diet affects the condition of your teeth and gums. Stay away from processed and sugary treats, especially the sticky kind! Those are bad for diabetics and insulin resistance patients and can get stuck between the teeth and cause cavities too! 

Don’t eat anything after brushing your teeth in the evening! And remember; you have to drink loads of water, especially after you have eaten anything acidic. Swirl the water in your mouth before you swallow!

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