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Diabetes and Dental Health

Diabetes is a serious health condition, where your blood glucose level is too high. It can occur if the body doesn’t produce enough insulin, if the insulin it produces isn’t effective, or if the body can’t produce any insulin at all.

Diabetes is a complex condition that can cause a wide range of different symptoms, complications, and health issues. Over time, high blood glucose levels can cause damage to the heart, eyes, feet, and kidneys.

Diabetics are also at increased risk of experiencing dental problems, such as gum disease. So, if you have diabetes, keeping your mouth, teeth, and gums healthy is an important part of managing your condition.

We’ll look at how diabetes can impact dental health and the symptoms of dental health problems commonly associated with diabetes.

Does diabetes affect dental health?

People with diabetes are more likely to experience problems with their teeth and gums.

According to Diabetes UK, people with type 2 diabetes are approximately three times more likely to develop dental problems than those who don’t have diabetes. Those with type 1 diabetes are also at an increased risk.

The main cause of dental problems in people with diabetes is having high blood sugar levels for a long period of time. Having too much sugar in our blood results in an increased level of sugar in your saliva, creating the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. This bacteria then produce acid, which attacks the tooth enamel and damages the gums.

Having high blood sugar can also damage the blood vessels in the gums, increasing the risk of infection.

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Symptoms of dental health problems

Diabetes and gum disease

Gum disease is the most common dental health problem experienced by people with diabetes.

Diabetics are at greater risk of gum disease because bacteria thrive in high sugar environments. If your diabetes isn’t controlled, it leads to high sugar levels in saliva, enabling bacteria to breed. The bacteria along with saliva and any small pieces of leftover food in the mouth to form plaque, which can then lead to gum disease.

The first stage of gum disease is gingivitis. If that’s left untreated, it can turn into periodontitis. This is a more severe type of gum disease, which can result in the erosion of the bone and tissue that support your teeth. In severe cases, this can lead to tooth loss.

Once gum disease becomes periodontitis, it can’t be reversed or treated with brushing and flossing. You will need to seek the support of your dentist.

Symptoms of gum disease

Symptoms of gum disease include:

  • Red, swollen gums
  • Bleeding gums after brushing or flossing
  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • An unpleasant taste in the mouth
  • Loose teeth
  • Pus occurring under the gums or teeth
  • Receding gums between the teeth
  • Excess saliva

If you develop any of these symptoms, you should visit your dentist immediately.

Diabetes and tooth decay

When bacteria feed on the sugar in sweet foods and refined carbohydrates, allowing them to grow and increase the amount of plaque in the mouth.

Because bacteria feed on sugar, people with diabetes may be at a higher risk of developing tooth decay. Again, this is due to the increased levels of sugar in the blood and saliva.

Symptoms of tooth decay

Symptoms of tooth decay include:

  • Toothache
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Bad breath
  • Grey, brown, or black spots on the teeth
  • An unpleasant taste in the mouth

If you develop any of these symptoms, you should visit your dentist immediately.

Diabetes and oral infections

Diabetics are also at increased risk of oral infections.

Just like bacteria, fungi thrive in high sugar environments. As result, infections such as thrush (candidiasis) are more common in people with diabetes. Not only this, but many diabetics regularly have to take antibiotics to treat a range of infections. This makes them even more prone to thrush.

Thrush is a fungal yeast infection that can cause white or red patches on the tongue and the inside of the cheeks. These patches can sometimes develop into open sores. 

Symptoms of oral infections

Symptoms of oral thrush include:

  • Red and white patches inside the mouth
  • Cracks at the corners of the mouth
  • Distorted taste
  • Unpleasant taste in the mouth
  • Pain inside the mouth
  • Difficulty eating and drinking

If you develop any of these symptoms, you should visit your dentist immediately.

10 dental hygiene tips

Here are our top dental hygiene tips for keeping your teeth, mouth, and gums healthy:

  1. Keep your blood sugar under control
  2. Brush and floss thoroughly at least twice every day to keep the plaque off your teeth
  3. Make sure you brush your tongue well too
  4. Use fluoride toothpaste
  5. Rinse your mouth with an antiseptic mouthwash
  6. Eat a healthy, balanced diet
  7. Drink plenty of water
  8. Avoid smoking. Or, if you currently smoke, try and quit
  9. If you wear dentures, keep them clean to prevent the build-up of bacteria
  10. Get regular dental check ups
Dental Hygienist

Frequently asked questions about diabetes and dental health

Do diabetes cause teeth to break?

While diabetes doesn’t directly cause the teeth to break, it does lead to a higher risk of developing gum disease and oral infections, both of which can lead to teeth breaking.

Do diabetics get free dental care?

Diabetics don’t get free NHS dental treatment, but it’s still important that you book regular check-ups with your dentist. You should also check if you meet any other factors that qualify you for free NHS dental treatment.

What do diabetics do with dental care?

It’s important that diabetics take extra care of their teeth, mouth, and gums. Follow our top dental hygiene tips above to keep on top of your dental care. You should also book a check-up with your dentists at least twice a year, and always visit them if you are experiencing any issues or symptoms.

Can tooth decay cause diabetes?

Because gum disease can lead to higher blood sugar levels, it can increase the risk of developing diabetes. 

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