Diabetes and dental care: Guide to a healthy mouth

What do brushing and flossing have to do with diabetes? Plenty. If you have diabetes, here's why dental care matters — and how to take care of your teeth and gums. By Mayo Clinic Staff

When you have diabetes, high blood sugar can take a toll on your entire body — including your teeth and gums. The good news? Prevention is in your hands. Learn what you're up against, and then take charge of your dental health.

Cavities and gum disease

Whether you have type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes, managing your blood sugar level is key. The higher your blood sugar level, the higher your risk of:

  • Tooth decay (cavities). Your mouth naturally contains many types of bacteria. When starches and sugars in food and beverages interact with these bacteria, a sticky film known as plaque forms on your teeth. The acids in plaque attack the hard, outer surface of your teeth (enamel). This can lead to cavities. The higher your blood sugar level, the greater the supply of sugars and starches — and the more acid wearing away at your teeth.
  • Early gum disease (gingivitis). Diabetes reduces your ability to fight bacteria. If you don't remove plaque with regular brushing and flossing, it'll harden under your gumline into a substance called tartar (calculus). The longer plaque and tartar remain on your teeth, the more they irritate the gingiva — the part of your gum around the base of your teeth. In time, your gums become swollen and bleed easily. This is gingivitis.
  • Advanced gum disease (periodontitis). Left untreated, gingivitis can lead to a more serious infection called periodontitis, which destroys the soft tissue and bone that support your teeth. Eventually, periodontitis causes your gums to pull away from your teeth and your teeth to loosen and even fall out. Periodontitis tends to be more severe among people who have diabetes because diabetes lowers the ability to resist infection and slows healing. An infection such as periodontitis may also cause your blood sugar level to rise, which makes your diabetes more difficult to control. Preventing and treating periodontitis can help improve blood sugar control.
Nov. 07, 2012 See more In-depth