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Seven things you need to know about diabetes and your dental health

If you have diabetes, you already know that it can cause many health complications. But did you know that ignoring your oral health can affect your diabetes?

Taking proper care of your teeth and gums will help prevent serious gum disease, which can cause blood glucose to rise.1 Likewise, maintaining good control of your blood sugar will help keep your mouth - and body - free of infection.2 Ignoring either of these is bad for your oral health.

Diabetes and senior dental care

We know that people with diabetes have an increased risk for infection if their blood sugar is elevated.3 Generally, seniors4 and those with certain disabilities5 are also more vulnerable to infection, because they are more likely to have multiple healthcare issues. Both groups need to be careful to avoid any type of infection.

Gum disease

When it comes to oral healthcare for seniors with diabetes, the first concern is gum disease.6

Early gum disease (gingivitis) may cause gums to feel tender and bleed. Serious gum disease (periodontitis) occurs when pockets form between your teeth and gums and fill with germs. At this stage, the infection can cause blood glucose levels to rise, which makes controlling diabetes even harder.7

Some common warning signs of gum disease include:

  • Gums that bleed while brushing or flossing
  • Red, swollen, or tender gums
  • Gums that have pulled away from teeth
  • Teeth that are loose or separating from other teeth
  • Bad breath (not caused by something you recently ate)
  • A change in the way your teeth or dentures fit together

If you notice any of these signs, it may be time to make an appointment with a dentist.

Dry mouth

Dry mouth is another concern. Older adults often experience dry mouth because of some of the medications they take. While it's often more annoying than serious, dry mouth can lead to gum disease and infection. A more urgent concern is that dry mouth may also be a sign of high blood glucose levels.8


Dry mouth can also lead to thrush, a type of yeast infection.9 Interestingly, thrush can also be caused by high blood glucose levels10, so if you notice any of these symptoms, contact your dentist or doctor:

  • White patches or a white coating in your mouth or on your tongue
  • Cracks at the corners of your mouth
  • A loss of taste or an unpleasant taste in your mouth
  • A burning sensation
  • Redness in your mouth or throat

Gum disease, dry mouth, and thrush make you more vulnerable to high blood sugar.11 The key is prevention.

Preventing infection

Just what does it take to prevent gum disease and other infections from taking hold? These simple steps should help keep your mouth healthy.

Control your blood glucose level

You already know the things you should be doing (and not doing) to keep your blood sugar in check. Take your medications, eat right, and exercise. Doing what's right for your diabetes is also good for your overall health.

Add healthy foods to your diet

Add colorful fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains, beans, and nuts to your diet.12 Fish that is high in Omega-3 and fat-free milk and yogurt are also good choices.13 The bonus? Eating these foods can help keep your entire body healthy.

Brush and floss daily

At least twice a day, brush your teeth using antibacterial toothpaste with fluoride. Use dental floss daily to get rid of the plaque and bacteria that build up between teeth.

Use an antibacterial mouthwash/rinse at least once a day

This can help kill bacteria and control plaque. Be sure to choose a mouthwash without alcohol, which can cause dry mouth.

Keep your dentures clean

If you wear dentures, remove and brush them daily. For helpful advice on how to care for your dentures, see the article Six tips for dealing with dentures: It isn’t so bad.

Schedule professional cleanings every 6 months

It's possible to have gum disease and not even know it, so take advantage of preventive dental services, and remind your dentist or hygienist that you have diabetes. Denture wearers, especially those with diabetes, should also go to the dentist. A professional may be able to spot signs of infection before you have any symptoms.

If you are interested in dental insurance, you can explore your options in the article Five ways for seniors on Medicare to get the right dental coverage.

Quit smoking

It only makes gum disease worse, in addition to being bad for your overall health.14

Dental care for seniors, especially those with diabetes, is vital. By controlling your blood sugar, your body is better able to fight infections. In turn, paying extra attention to your dental health can help prevent infections that could make your diabetes worse.

For people with diabetes, taking proper care of your oral health is simply a good idea.

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