Living with diabetes can be a challenge and can impact your daily decisions and actions. Managing this health condition may require medication and adapting a healthy lifestyle such as making better food choices and daily exercise. Adapting good oral health habits also becomes essential when living with diabetes.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a health condition that affects how the body turns food into energy. Most of the food you eat is broken down into sugar (also called glucose) and released into your bloodstream. When your blood sugar goes up, it signals the pancreas, the organ that helps convert food we eat into fuel, to release insulin. Insulin acts like a key to let the blood sugar into your body’s cells for use as energy. If you have diabetes, your body either does not make enough insulin or cannot use the insulin it makes as well as it should. When there isn’t enough insulin or cells stop responding to insulin, too much blood sugar stays in your bloodstream. Over time, this can cause serious health problems, such as heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease (CDC).
How does diabetes affect my oral health?
Poor control of blood sugar can place people living with diabetes at a higher risk of dental disease. With increasing age, people with diabetes can be more prone to infections. Many dentists recommend their diabetic patients to practice proper daily dental care to prevent dental infections.
People with diabetes are at risk for mouth infections, especially periodontal (gum) disease. Gum disease can damage the gum and bone that hold your teeth in place and may lead to painful chewing problems. Some people with serious gum disease can lose their teeth.
Another problem diabetes can cause is dry mouth. This happens when you do not have enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. Saliva helps prevent tooth decay by neutralizing acids produced by bacteria. It also helps wash away food particles and helps make it easier to chew food and swallow. Dry mouth may also be caused from medications.
People with diabetes who frequently take antibiotics to fight various infections are especially prone to developing a fungal infection of the mouth and tongue called thrush. This infection occurs when fungus thrives on the high glucose levels in the saliva of people with uncontrolled diabetes.
How can I have a healthy mouth living with diabetes?
Managing your daily dental care can help prevent dental infections that are linked to diabetes. Proper dental care is key for good oral health. Take steps to keep your mouth healthy. Follow the tips below:
- Brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste. Remember to brush gently with a soft toothbrush. Brushing too hard can irritate your gums. Try brushing after each meal and snack.
- Floss daily. This helps remove plaque between your teeth and under your gumline. A major cause of gum disease.
- Visit your dental provider twice a year for routine dental exams. Early detection is key to prevent tooth decay and gum disease. Be sure to tell the dentist that you have diabetes and let him/her know any medications you take. It is important for your dental provider to be aware of them. Your dentist may recommend more frequent dental cleanings to help control blood sugar levels and prevent gum disease.
- Clean your dentures daily. If you have dentures, daily cleaning helps remove food particles and bacteria. Click here for more information on denture care from the American Dental Association.
- Follow a healthy eating plan. Eating the right foods as part of a healthy eating plan can help lower and maintain good glucose levels. Healthy food can help you have strong teeth and healthy gums.
- Quit smoking. Smoking can increase gum disease and can also make it slower for gums to heal. Talk to your dentist or doctor for ways to quit.
Click on the images below for additional resources.
Diabetes meal planning
A helpful guide from the CDC for when, what, and how much to eat to get the nutrition you need, while keeping your blood sugar levels in your target range. Spanish.