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Oral & Dental Complications

Oral and dental (mouth and teeth) complications are common in people with diabetes. It is estimated that between 34 and 68 percent of people with diabetes have gum or mouth disease.1

Because mouth and teeth problems affect your ability to eat, these problems can impact your daily life. Diabetes is linked to several mouth and teeth problems, from gum disease and dry mouth to infections. If you have diabetes, it is important to know the keys to oral and dental health and to respond to minor problems in a timely manner so they do not become serious ones.2-4

How does diabetes affect oral and dental health?

Diabetes can affect the health of your mouth and teeth in several ways. Increased blood sugar (glucose) weakens the small blood vessels in the body, including those in your mouth. This leads to gums that are more likely to bleed and slower to heal, increasing the risk for gum disease. Also, diabetes weakens your immune system and affects your ability to fight off infections in the mouth. Diabetes also causes long-term (chronic) inflammation. This leads to problems throughout your body, including issues with your mouth and teeth.2-4

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Diabetes may damage the nerves in your mouth that produce saliva, leading to dry mouth (xerostomia). To make matters worse, the drugs that treat diabetes may cause or worsen dry mouth symptoms. Your mouth depends on a normal amount of saliva production for protection against cavities, infections, and tooth loss. People who have dry mouths are at greater risk for getting cavities, infections, and tooth loss.2-4

What is gum disease?

Do you notice bleeding from your gums when you brush or floss? That may be an early sign of periodontal disease. This disease results from inflammation of the gums and bone that surround and support the teeth.4

The early stages of this condition are known as gum disease (gingivitis). Gum disease appears as swollen, red gums that may bleed. The more serious form of periodontal disease is known as periodontitis. In this form, the gums can pull away from your teeth. Bone from your mouth and jaw can be lost, and your teeth may loosen or even fall out. One in 5 cases of tooth loss have been linked to diabetes.4

A buildup of plaque and germs around the gums can lead to gum disease. Gum disease can be caused by high blood sugar (hyperglycemia). If you smoke and have diabetes, the risk of gum disease may be much higher.2,3

Can I prevent gum disease?

Maintaining good oral health is the best action to take to prevent gum disease and tooth loss. Some healthy habits for your mouth and teeth may include:3

  • Brush twice a day and floss daily.
  • See a dentist twice a year or more often, depending on your condition and the direction from your doctor.
  • Develop healthy habits. This may include eating balanced meals, decreasing sugary foods and drinks, and stopping smoking.
  • Get and keep your blood sugar under control. Just like dental health, this takes a partnership with your doctor to make sure you have the best treatment.

Can I do anything about dry mouth?

Dry mouth can make you more likely to get cavities. Your dentist may want to use fluoride gels or rinses to help strengthen your teeth. Talk to your dentist about using an artificial saliva product if you experience severe dry mouth. Artificial saliva can help you with eating and speaking.2

Drinking water and even sipping a little water throughout the day can also be helpful if you have dry mouth. Chewing sugarless gum after meals may help with dry mouth too. Sugarless gum can increase saliva production and protect against the formation of cavities.2

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Written by: Jonathan Simmons and Katie Murphy | Last reviewed: March 2021.