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5 Tips for Controlling Diabetes and Oral Health

Nearly 26 million Americans have diabetes, a chronic disease in which the body’s blood sugar levels remain elevated. In addition to health problems such as heart disease and kidney failure, this population faces increased risk for oral health problems.

The American Dental Association lists the most common oral health problems associated with diabetes as follows:

  • Tooth decay
  • Periodontal (gum) disease
  • Salivary gland dysfunction
  • Fungal infections
  • Lichen planus and lichenoid reactions (inflammatory skin disease)
  • Infection and delayed healing
  • Taste impairment

If you or someone in your family has diabetes, consider these tips to prevent complications to your overall and oral health:

1. Manage your diabetes

The American Diabetes Association considers controlling blood glucose levels the first and foremost step in preventing oral health problems associated with diabetes. It helps prevent gum disease, thrush, and fungal infection, as well as prevent and relieve diabetes-related dry mouth.

2. Visit the dentist

Schedule regular checkups and professional cleanings—every six months. Doing so not only helps keep your mouth clean and healthy, it allows your dentist to look for changes and early signs of problems. Diabetes patients may require more frequent dental visits. Talk to your dentist about how often you should return for cleanings and exams.

Additionally, be sure to notify your dentist that you have diabetes. Inform him or her of any changes to your condition, medications you are taking, and concerns and questions you have. This information is important to preventive care, treatment planning, and decisions regarding dental work.

3. Brush and floss vigilantly

As stated above, taking care of your teeth helps keep diabetes under control just as keeping your diabetes under control helps prevent oral health complications. It is especially important people with diabetes to brush at least twice daily and floss at least once daily to remove plaque and germs. If your teeth and gums are sensitive, choose a brush with soft bristles. Talk to your dentist about the best toothbrush options for you.

4. Get to know your mouth

Regularly examine your gums, gum line, tongue, lips, and insides of your cheeks for sores, rashes, and changes to the tissue. If you notice anything unusual, make an appointment to see your dentist. Some conditions, such as gingivitis, may be painless until they become serious.

The American Diabetes Association lists the following as possible signs of gingivitis and/or serious gum disease:

  • Bleeding and red, swollen, or tender gums
  • Gums that have pulled away from the teeth
  • Pus between the teeth and gums (when you press on the gums)
  • Bad breath
  • Permanent teeth that are loose or moving away from each other
  • Changes in the way your teeth fit when you bite
  • Changes in the fit of partial dentures or bridges

5. Stop smoking—and don’t start

Smoking is one of the most significant factors in the development of gum disease and it lowers the chances for successful treatment, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. It may be responsible for as much as 75 percent of periodontal disease in adults. The risk increases in those with diabetes. Additionally, smoking increases the risk of other diabetes complications. Talk to your doctor about smoking cessation options. And, if you don’t smoke, don’t start!

The relationship between periodontal disease and diabetes is considered a two-way street, according to the American Academy of Periodontology. Those with diabetes are at higher risk for developing periodontal disease due to depleted white blood cells, which defend our bodies against infection, according to the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine. Likewise, periodontal disease can complicate diabetes. The AAP explains that because severe periodontal disease can increase blood sugar, it puts diabetics at higher risk for complications. Treating gum disease in people with diabetes can help blood sugar control, according to the American Dental Association.

Managing your diabetes, overall health, and oral health means, in addition to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, working with both your doctor and dentist to keep your condition under control.

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