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 do it right.

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, gum disease and other problems

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 foods and beverages interact with these bacteria, a sticky film known as plaque forms on your teeth. The acids in plaque attack the surfaces of your teeth (enamel and dentin). This can lead to cavities and gum disease.

    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 (dental calculus).

    The longer plaque and tartar remain on your teeth, the more they irritate the part of your gums around the base of your teeth, called the gingiva. In time, your gums become swollen and bleed easily. This is known as 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 and jawbone to pull away from your teeth, which in turn causes your teeth to loosen and possibly 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 in turn makes your diabetes more difficult to control. Preventing and treating periodontitis with regular dental cleanings can help improve blood sugar control.

  • Thrush. People with diabetes may be more likely to develop thrush, which is a fungal infection caused by the yeast Candida albicans. Signs of thrush include painful white or red patches inside your mouth. Practicing good oral hygiene can help you avoid thrush.
  • Dry mouth (xerostomia). Some people with diabetes also experience a lack of saliva, a condition known as dry mouth. Without saliva to keep your mouth moist and bathe your teeth, you could be at risk of tooth decay, gum disease and thrush.

Proper dental care

To help prevent damage to your teeth and gums, take diabetes and dental care seriously:

  • Make a commitment to manage your diabetes. Monitor your blood sugar level, and follow your doctor's instructions for keeping your blood sugar level within your target range. The better you control your blood sugars, the less likely you are to develop gingivitis and other dental problems.
  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day. Brush in the morning, at night and, ideally, after meals and snacks. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and toothpaste that contains fluoride. Avoid vigorous or harsh scrubbing, which can irritate your gums.

    Consider using an electric toothbrush, especially if you have arthritis or other problems that make it difficult to brush well. Get a new toothbrush at least every three months.

  • Floss your teeth at least once a day. Flossing helps remove plaque between your teeth and under your gumline. If you have trouble getting dental floss through your teeth, use the waxed variety. If it's hard to manipulate the floss, use a floss holder.
  • Schedule regular dental visits. Visit your dentist at least twice a year for professional cleanings, X-rays and checkups.
  • Make sure your dentist knows you have diabetes. Every time you visit your dentist, remind him or her that you have diabetes. Make sure your dentist has contact information for your doctor who helps you manage your diabetes.
  • Look for early signs of gum disease. Report any signs of gum disease — including redness, swelling and bleeding gums — to your dentist. Also mention any other signs and symptoms, such as dry mouth, loose teeth or mouth pain.
  • Don't smoke. Smoking increases the risk of serious diabetes complications, including gum disease and ultimately, loss of your teeth. If you smoke, ask your doctor about options to help you quit.

Managing diabetes is a lifelong commitment, and that includes proper dental care. Your efforts will be rewarded with a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums.

Oct. 12, 2018 See more In-depth

See also

  1. Medication-free hypertension control
  2. A1C test
  3. After a flood, are food and medicines safe to use?
  4. Air pollution and exercise
  5. Alcohol: Does it affect blood pressure?
  6. Alpha blockers
  7. Amputation and diabetes
  8. Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
  9. Angiotensin II receptor blockers
  10. Anxiety: A cause of high blood pressure?
  11. Artificial sweeteners: Any effect on blood sugar?
  12. Bariatric surgery
  13. Beta blockers
  14. Beta blockers: Do they cause weight gain?
  15. Beta blockers: How do they affect exercise?
  16. Blood glucose meters
  17. Blood glucose monitors
  18. Blood pressure: Can it be higher in one arm?
  19. Blood pressure chart
  20. Blood pressure cuff: Does size matter?
  21. Blood pressure: Does it have a daily pattern?
  22. Blood pressure: Is it affected by cold weather?
  23. Blood pressure medication: Still necessary if I lose weight?
  24. Blood pressure medications: Can they raise my triglycerides?
  25. Blood pressure readings: Why higher at home?
  26. Blood pressure tip: Get more potassium
  27. Blood pressure tip: Get off the couch
  28. Blood pressure tip: Know alcohol limits
  29. Blood pressure tip: Stress out no more
  30. Blood pressure tip: Watch the caffeine
  31. Blood pressure tip: Watch your weight
  32. Blood sugar levels can fluctuate for many reasons
  33. Blood sugar testing: Why, when and how
  34. Bone and joint problems associated with diabetes
  35. Pancreas transplant animation
  36. Build resilience to better handle diabetes
  37. Caffeine and hypertension
  38. Calcium channel blockers
  39. Calcium supplements: Do they interfere with blood pressure drugs?
  40. Can low vitamin D cause high blood pressure?
  41. Can whole-grain foods lower blood pressure?
  42. Caring for a loved one with diabetes
  43. Central-acting agents
  44. Choosing blood pressure medications
  45. COVID-19: Who's at higher risk?
  46. Diabetes
  47. Diabetes and depression: Coping with the two conditions
  48. Diabetes and exercise: When to monitor your blood sugar
  49. Diabetes and fasting: Can I fast during Ramadan?
  50. Diabetes and foot care
  51. Diabetes and Heat
  52. Diabetes and menopause
  53. Diabetes and summer: How to beat the heat
  54. Diabetes and travel: Planning is key
  55. Diabetes and electric blankets
  56. 10 ways to avoid diabetes complications
  57. Diabetes diet: Create your healthy-eating plan
  58. Diabetes diet: Should I avoid sweet fruits?
  59. Diabetes foods: Can I substitute honey for sugar?
  60. Diabetes and liver
  61. Diabetes management: Does aspirin therapy prevent heart problems?
  62. Diabetes management: How lifestyle, daily routine affect blood sugar
  63. Diabetes: Eating out
  64. Diabetes nutrition: Sweets
  65. Diabetes symptoms
  66. Diabetes treatment: Can cinnamon lower blood sugar?
  67. Using insulin
  68. Diabetic Gastroparesis
  69. Diuretics
  70. Diuretics: A cause of low potassium?
  71. Do you know your blood pressure?
  72. Erectile dysfunction and diabetes
  73. High blood pressure and exercise
  74. Exercise and chronic disease
  75. Fatigue
  76. Free blood pressure machines: Are they accurate?
  77. Frequent urination
  78. Home blood pressure monitoring
  79. Glucose tolerance test
  80. Glycemic index: A helpful tool for diabetes?
  81. Healthy heart for life: Avoiding heart disease
  82. Hemochromatosis
  83. High blood pressure (hypertension)
  84. High blood pressure and cold remedies: Which are safe?
  85. High blood pressure and sex
  86. High blood pressure: Can you prevent it?
  87. High blood pressure dangers
  88. Hypertensive crisis: What are the symptoms?
  89. Insulin and weight gain
  90. Insulin therapy options
  91. Intensive insulin therapy
  92. Isolated systolic hypertension: A health concern?
  93. L-arginine: Does it lower blood pressure?
  94. Late-night eating: OK if you have diabetes?
  95. Low-phosphorus diet: Helpful for kidney disease?
  96. Diabetes and carbs
  97. Medications and supplements that can raise your blood pressure
  98. Menopause and high blood pressure: What's the connection?
  99. Infographic: Pancreas Kidney Transplant
  100. Pancreas transplant
  101. Pulse pressure: An indicator of heart health?
  102. Reactive hypoglycemia: What can I do?
  103. Reading food labels
  104. Resperate: Can it help reduce blood pressure?
  105. Service dogs assist with diabetes care
  106. Sleep deprivation: A cause of high blood pressure?
  107. Blood sugar testing
  108. Sodium nitrate in meat: Heart disease risk factor?
  109. Stress and high blood pressure
  110. The dawn phenomenon: What can you do?
  111. Tips for cutting costs of blood glucose test strips
  112. Unexplained weight loss
  113. Vasodilators
  114. Vegetarian diet: Can it help me control my diabetes?
  115. How diabetes affects your blood sugar
  116. How to measure blood pressure using a manual monitor
  117. How to measure blood pressure using an automatic monitor
  118. What is blood pressure?
  119. Weight Loss Surgery Options
  120. Weightlifting: Bad for your blood pressure?
  121. What's your high blood pressure risk?
  122. White coat hypertension
  123. Why does diet matter after bariatric surgery?
  124. Wrist blood pressure monitors: Are they accurate?