The Important Connection Between Oral Health And Diabetes

Dr. Christopher Li Etobicoke - Li Family Dental

By Dr. Christopher Li

July 17, 2023

dental care, dental cleanings, gum disease, health and wellness, oral health and diabetes

Although many people with diabetes understand how the disease can lead to health conditions affecting everything from the eyes to the nerves and the kidneys to the heart, knowledge of related oral health issues is not as widespread. There is a meaningful connection between oral health and diabetes, making it essential to control sugar levels and maintain gum health. Here’s what you should know. 

Common Oral Health And Diabetes Symptoms

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Typical oral health symptoms tied to your diabetes can include the following:

  • Swollen, tender, bleeding gums
  • Gum, tongue, or mouth soreness
  • Dry mouth
  • White patches on the tongue and inner cheeks
  • A bad taste in the mouth
  • Chronic bad breath

If you notice these signs, schedule a dental visit so your dentist can determine the cause and develop a treatment plan.  

Diabetes And Oral Health Issues

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The reason diabetes can lead to oral health issues is that high blood sugar reduces your ability to fight mouth infections. This is because you have weakened white blood cells, which are vital in infection prevention. When combined with high blood sugar, you can encounter the following oral health issues:

Dry mouth: Hyperglycemia caused by high blood glucose leads to dehydration, reducing saliva production. As a result, you can’t flush away bacteria in your mouth, which can lead to tooth decay, mouth soreness, ulcers, and infections.

Periodontal (gum) disease: The rinsing action of your saliva also washes away food debris, along with pathogens and bacteria. When you have dry mouth, you can also develop periodontal disease, an infection that can lead to tooth loss if it spreads to your jawbone. Diabetes also slows down healing which allows gum disease to progress quickly. Gum disease, in turn, makes managing blood sugar levels more challenging.

Thrush: Thrush is a painful fungal infection. The fungus creates raised white patches in the mouth that are irritating and sore. Unfortunately, the combination of a dry mouth and increased sugar levels creates the perfect environment for fungus to thrive.

The relationship between oral health and diabetic neuropathy

Neuropathy can cause a condition called burning mouth syndrome. Symptoms include a loss of taste and smell and a burning sensation in the mouth. These symptoms should be discussed with your dentist and family doctor.   

Oral Health Problems And Diabetes Treatment

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Reporting your symptoms immediately ensures you receive treatment to reduce the risk of worsening oral health conditions. Possible therapies might include:

Antibiotics: Antibiotics are used to fight infections related to periodontal disease. However, keep in mind that they can increase the risk of thrush.

Cleaning: Depending on the stage of your gum disease, your dentist will recommend a series of cleanings to help remove plaque and reverse progression. This usually includes deep cleaning, scaling, or in some cases, both.

Gum surgery: If your gum disease has progressed to the final stages, your dentist will refer you to a periodontist to perform gum surgery.

Prescription mouthwash: Prescription-strength mouthwash such as Peridex can help fight gum disease.

Antifungals: Antifungal treatments are used to treat thrush. You will also receive a recommended diet to help reduce the risks of the thrush returning.

Oral hygiene: Your dentist or hygienist will provide a strict oral hygiene regime to improve home care. Careful instruction will ensure you understand the steps needed for people with diabetes. The best mouthwash for diabetics is Listerine Cool Mint Antiseptic Mouthwash, used twice daily. Studies show it is well tolerated by people with controlled diabetes and can help prevent and reduce plaque and gingivitis.

Denture rinses: If you wear dentures and have thrush, using a special cleaning solution to kill the fungus is very important.

Medication for dry mouth: A special prescription is needed to improve saliva production in severe cases of dry mouth. However, many people can manage dry mouth using over-the-counter products like dry mouth rinses to help keep their mouth moist. 

Types Of Dental Problems Associated With Diabetes

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Dental and oral health are the same, although many people think of teeth when they hear the word dental. If we look at specific issues related to diabetes and oral health problems, it goes back to the same problems associated with dry mouth and sugar levels. In the case of teeth, plaque is always the culprit.

Because diabetes increases blood sugar levels, those increased sugar levels also occur in the saliva. Plaque “eats” sugar, so you are at greater risk of decay, cavities, and tooth loss. Keeping in mind that diabetes causes slower healing if gum disease develops, the infection can very quickly reach your jawbone. This loosens teeth, leading to tooth loss.

How To Help Avoid Oral Problems With Diabetes

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You can avoid oral problems related to diabetes by making essential lifestyle changes. The most crucial step is to let your dentist know you have diabetes. They will provide a schedule for dental visits to track your oral health and catch issues early. Along with your professional cleanings and checkups, follow your hygienist’s recommended home care regime, flossing and brushing as instructed. You can also:

  • Inspect your gums daily and report bleeding, redness, and swelling to your dentist immediately before it worsens.
  • If you suffer from dry mouth, let your dentist know so they can recommend products to keep your mouth moist.
  • Any changes to your mouth, teeth, and gums since your diabetes diagnosis should also be noted and mentioned to your dentist.
  • Denture wearers experiencing gum tenderness or a change in how their dentures fit should speak to their dentist.
  • If you smoke – quit, to reduce your risk of gum disease. 

A Final Word About Diabetes And Your Teeth

When you have diabetes, you must maintain a good oral health regime and keep your diabetes under control. If you experience increased blood glucose, it contributes to the risk of oral health issues, slowing down the healing progress of the treatment you receive. If you keep your diabetes under control with an improved diet, regular exercise, and blood monitoring, you will also keep your oral health in check.

If you have diabetes and want to optimize your oral health, give us a call at 416-232-2033 or request an appointment by clicking here.

Dr. Christopher Li

About the author

Doctor Christopher Li, DDS
Dr. Chris, as he is affectionately known, is a licensed dentist with over 20 years experience. His caring personality makes even the most tentative person at ease. Patients are constantly commenting about how Dr. Chris is incredible at delivering pain-free freezing, and how he has an amazing chair-side manner.  Dr. Chris loves sharing information with his patients and everyone who has teeth about how to care for their teeth, avoid tooth decay, and the treatments available to help them overcome their tooth pain or other dental issues so they can enjoy life and food to its fullest!

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