a doctor checking a large tooth with a stethoscope

Dental Health Is Part of Type 2 Diabetes Health

Among the complications that can come with type 2 diabetes there’s one that you may not be aware of: periodontal disease.

Red, swollen, bleeding gums. Gums pulling away from teeth. Teeth feeling like they’re loose. These are all symptoms of serious periodontal disease, which affects people with type 2 diabetes more often than the general public.1

When we think about dental health we don’t necessarily consider how it’s related to diabetes. Poorly managing one can encourage ailments in the other. Elevated blood glucose levels can encourage bacteria and fungus to grow in the mouth leading to infection and pain. And elevated levels of oral bacteria can cause inflammation, triggering a stress response in the body which can lead to elevated blood glucose levels.1

Dental health risks and type 2 diabetes

When type 2 diabetes is present along with poorly managed blood glucose levels and/or spotty dental self-care, there’s a higher risk of developing a number of different dental ailments.

These include:2

  • Periodontal disease
  • Thrush
  • Dry mouth
  • Burning mouth syndrome
  • Changes in taste
  • Persistent mouth pain
  • Slow healing in the mouth

Each of these ailments can be painful. Along with putting your teeth at risk, they can also undermine your eating and drinking routine. Dental ailments and the pain that often comes with them can trigger a stress response in the body. All of these effects can, ultimately, undermine your blood glucose management and your diabetes health.1

At its worst: Periodontal disease

Periodontal disease is perhaps the most serious dental health concern that comes with type 2 diabetes. It is caused by a severe bacterial infection along the gum line that can ultimately lead to tooth loss and bone loss in the jaw.3

Once periodontal disease is present a deep cleaning by a dental hygienist is needed to remove bacteria, plaque, and scaling from the teeth and gum line. You might hear this procedure referred to as periodontal scaling and root planing (SRP). To complete SRP takes hours and may need to be spread across two or more appointments. In the most extreme cases of periodontal disease, antibiotics might need to be prescribed.3

Going forward a daily routine of brushing and flossing along with regular visits to the dentist are required to keep the bacterial infection from coming back.

Other dental ailments to be aware of

The risks to dental health go beyond periodontal disease for people with type 2 diabetes. Here are some other dental ailments and their symptoms to be aware of:2,3

Thrush is a fungal infection that causes yeasty white spots or areas in the mouth. It’s most commonly treated with anti-fungal medication and/or mouthwash. People who have dentures may need to soak their dentures in a special anti-fungal solution overnight for several days or weeks to clear the infection, along with taking medication and/or using an anti-fungal mouthwash.

Dry mouth is most commonly the result of the body not producing enough saliva. It can be a side effect of some medications or it can develop for other reasons. If left untreated dry mouth can result in bad breath and tooth decay. In the most extreme cases, it can make it hard to swallow or chew.

Burning mouth syndrome happens when you experience ongoing skin irritation in the mouth or on the tongue. These sensations might be caused by nerve damage or be a side effect of medication. The cause is not always clear.

Changes in taste sensation can be hard to nail down because this symptom is so subjective. It’s thought that these changes result from nerve damage. But a change in taste can also be a side effect of medication.

Persistent mouth pain is ongoing pain or discomfort in the mouth, teeth, and/or jaw that may not have a clear cause. This pain can disrupt eating and drinking and raise physical stress levels.

Slow healing can be a side effect of diabetes anywhere in the body, including the mouth and jaw. Having an open sore or ulcer in the mouth is painful and leaves the person vulnerable to infection. Extreme blood glucose levels (high or low) can lead to slow healing in the body.

If you experience any of these symptoms it’s best to see your dentist or doctor as soon as possible. Your dentist or doctor can help you track down the cause and find an appropriate response.

Consistent self-care is key to dental health

For the most part, dental complications from type 2 diabetes can be avoided with consistent attention to self-care for both your diabetes and your dental health.

Blood glucose management is the cornerstone of overall health with type 2 diabetes and it’s no different with dental health. Keeping blood glucose levels in range as much as possible removes the underlying conditions that lead to or make dental ailments worse.2

Medication changes can often be made to avoid dry mouth, burning mouth, and changes in taste. If you’re experiencing any of these, review your medications for possible side effects with your doctor and to see if another medication can be substituted.2

Daily dental self-care will keep your mouth and teeth clean and healthy. Brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste and a soft toothbrush at least twice a day. Floss daily. And check your mouth and gums regularly for bleeding, dry patches, white patches, or signs of irritation that persists.2

These are the things you can do regularly to keep your teeth, mouth, and gums healthy. Do them, along with visiting your dentist at least once a year and having regular cleanings, and you'll see the benefits to your overall dental health.

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