As children we were told to floss and brush our teeth to prevent cavities. But with diabetes, good oral health becomes especially important to avoid future complications of the mouth. After all, mouth issues are nothing to smile about. Here’s a look at why oral health is important in diabetes and what you can do to avoid future mouth complications.
Why do I need to care about oral health?
High blood sugar levels can weaken the immune system's defences. Research shows that high blood sugar levels in the saliva of people with diabetes may be a breeding ground for bacteria.
If you eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day, as is common with diabetes, you are also increasing your chances of bacteria growing in the mouth and causing cavities, gum disease and other issues. The good news is that people with well-controlled diabetes have been shown to have no more tooth decay or periodontal disease than those without diabetes.
Read more about the effect of blood sugar on your teeth.
What are potential oral health problems with diabetes?
Here are some oral health concerns to watch out for when you have diabetes.
Cavities: The higher your blood sugar, the more sugars and starches in your saliva interact with mouth bacteria to cause plaque, a sticky deposit on the teeth where bacteria can thrive. Acids in plaque attack the surfaces of your teeth causing cavities and even gum disease.
Dry mouth: High blood sugar causes the body to make more urine, resulting in less water production in the mouth and other parts of the body. Dry mouth can put you at risk for plaque production and tooth decay because there is not enough saliva to wash away bacteria.
Thrush: High sugar levels in the saliva of people with diabetes can cause this fungal infection, which typically produces a white coating on the tongue. Thrush can lead to bad breath, burning in the mouth and changes in your ability to taste foods.
How often should I see my dentist or dental hygienist?
Be sure to see your dental team at least twice a year for regular cleanings, x-rays and checkups. Keep them informed about your diabetes at every visit. Carry a list of all medications so the dentist can watch for potential drug interactions when prescribing.
Remember that healing may take longer when you have diabetes, so diligently follow your dentist’s post-treatment advice.
Top tips for maintaining oral health with diabetes
With all the potential complications mentioned above, it’s important to take diabetes and dental care seriously. Here are some key ways to do that:
- Manage your blood sugar levels: staying within your blood sugar targets will give your body a better chance to fight common bacteria in the mouth that can lead to oral issues.
- Brush and floss your teeth: Good oral hygiene (brushing at least twice a day and flossing once daily) can help prevent damage to your teeth and gums. If possible, brush your teeth after every meal. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and toothpaste with fluoride and replace your brush every three months. If you have trouble brushing due to mobility issues, an electric toothbrush may help.
- Avoid smoking: If all its other side effects don’t deter you, consider that smoking increases your risk of gum disease and ultimately loss of teeth. If you are a smoker, speak to your physician or pharmacist about tools that can help you quit.
- See your dentist regularly: Schedule regular professional cleanings, x-rays and checkups and ensure your dentist knows about your diabetes; in turn make sure to report any early signs of oral problems such as redness, swelling, bleeding gums, loose teeth or mouth pain. Make sure your dentist has contact information for your physician or diabetes care team in case there are any issues to discuss.
- Remove and clean dentures daily: If you wear dentures, cleaning them daily will help avoid bacteria buildup that can spread to the rest of your mouth.
- Follow a healthy diet: Eating well will help you keep your blood sugar levels in check.
Good oral hygiene and blood sugar control, along with regular dental checkups, are the best defense against diabetes-related complications of the mouth. Now that’s something to smile about.