SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- People with diabetes have a higher risk of tooth and gum problems.
- It is important to look after your oral health and control your blood glucose levels to prevent gum disease.
- Visit your dentist regularly for advice about how to keep your teeth and gums healthy.
- Quit smoking.
Diabetes, teeth and gums
People with who have irregular blood glucose levels have a higher risk of tooth problems and gum disease than people without diabetes. This is because they have lowered resistance to infection and may not heal as easily.
If you are living with diabetes, you need to pay particular attention to your oral health and dental care, as well as keeping your blood glucose levels in the target range. Visit your every 6 to 12 months for advice about how to keep your .
Diabetes is a common condition in Australia, affecting around 1.8 million people (around 7% of the population). The first signs and symptoms of diabetes can occur in the mouth, so paying attention to your oral health and speaking to your doctor or dental practitioner about any changes can also lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment.
Diabetes and common oral health problems
The most common oral health problems affecting people with diabetes are:
- gum abscesses
- fungal infections, such as thrush (also known as candidiasis)
- lichen planus (an inflammatory, autoimmune skin condition)
- taste disturbances
- a due to low saliva levels.
Diabetes and periodontal (gum) disease
is caused by an infection that destroys the bone surrounding and supporting your teeth. This bone holds your teeth into your jawbone and allows you to chew comfortably. Bacteria and food debris called dental plaque contribute to gum disease.
If left on teeth and gums, plaque hardens to form calculus or tartar. The plaque and calculus irritate the gums around teeth so they become red, swollen and bleed. As gum disease progresses, this also affects the underlying bone which is eventually lost. Teeth become loose and may fall out by themselves or may need to be removed.
Gum disease is more common and more severe in people with suboptimal blood glucose levels. This is because they generally have lower resistance to infection and reduced healing capacity.
It is important to look after your oral health and control your blood glucose levels to prevent gum disease. Treating gum disease helps to improve blood glucose levels in people living with diabetes, and people with blood glucose levels in the target range respond very well to dental treatment.
Symptoms of gum disease
Please see your dentist immediately if you notice any signs and symptoms of gum disease, including:
- red, swollen, tender, bleeding gums
- a persistent discharge (pus) coming from the gums
- gums that are loose and pull away from the teeth
- a bad taste or bad breath
- loose teeth – this can change the ‘feel’ of your bite when your teeth are placed together or may make dentures fit differently
- spaces opening up between your teeth.
Diabetes and tooth decay
With increased blood glucose levels, people living with diabetes may have more glucose in their saliva and very . These conditions allow dental plaque to build up on teeth, which can lead to and cavities.
Dental plaque can be removed by cleaning your teeth and gums twice daily with a toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Be gentle when brushing over the gums where they meet the teeth as bushing them too hard can cause some gum loss. Use interdental cleaners or dental floss daily to clean between your teeth. Taking prevents cavities and gum disease.
Diabetes and oral fungal infections
Oral thrush (candidiasis) is a fungal infection. It is caused by an overgrowth of the yeast, Candida albicans, which lives in the mouth. Some conditions caused by diabetes such as high glucose in saliva, lowered resistance to infection and dry mouth (low saliva levels) can encourage the overgrowth of these fungi, leading to oral thrush.
Oral thrush causes uncomfortable, sometimes ulcerated white or red patches on the skin of the mouth. Good mouth hygiene and blood glucose levels in the target range can help to treat oral thrush. Your dentist can treat this condition by prescribing antifungal medications if needed.
Caring for your teeth and gums
If you are a person living with diabetes, it is recommended that you:
- Follow your doctor’s advice about diet and medication to keep your blood glucose levels as close to the target levels as possible.
- Clean your teeth and gums twice a day with toothpaste that contains fluoride.
- Use dental floss or interdental cleaners once a day to clean between your teeth.
- Visit your dentist every 6 to 12 months so that they can check your mouth, teeth and gums for any signs of oral conditions, professionally clean your teeth and give advice about caring for your teeth and gums at home. Talk to your dentist about your blood glucose levels and what medications you are taking.
- Avoid having a dry mouth – drink plenty of water and chew sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva flow.
- Don’t – speak to your doctor or dentist, or call if you would like some support to quit. Tel. for guidance and support.