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