Diabetes & The Mouth

Keeping your teeth, gums & mouth healthy helps to improve your general health. This is particularly important if you have diabetes, as research has shown that high blood glucose levels can increase the risk of developing gum disease, dry mouth, dental decay, oral thrush & dental infections. However, by controlling blood glucose levels, these risks can be minimised.

Researchers have also shown that improving the oral health of the mouth will have positive effects on blood glucose regulation.

The most significant result of high blood glucose levels on the mouth is its effect on the gums & tissues that support the teeth. Gum disease is very common and starts when plaque (a sticky bacterial film) collects around the necks of the teeth. Gums become inflamed, red & swollen and bleed. This is Gingivitis; patients with diabetes are prone to a more severe gingivitis, especially if glucose levels aren’t under control.

Untreated gingivitis can lead to periodontal disease which affects the bone & other tissues supporting the teeth. This can result in mobility and eventually tooth loss. If you have diabetes, the risk of developing periodontal disease is about three times that of a person without diabetes. But treating periodontal disease can have a beneficial effect on your blood glucose control.

High blood glucose levels can leave people more susceptible to infection, including oral infections. Infections can take longer to heal and you may need antibiotics at an earlier stage.

People with diabetes can be at more risk of oral thrush. The yeast fungus, Candida albicans, that causes oral thrush is often present without causing problems. However, a change in the environment of the mouth can favour its growth, and symptoms can include redness, soreness of the lining of the mouth & cracking at the corners of the mouth – sometimes there aren’t any symptoms and it is only diagnosed after an oral examination. 

dry mouth is more frequent in patients with diabetes and can be a result of dehydration, after frequent urination, due to damage to the blood vessels and nerves affecting the salivary glands or as a side-effect of some medications. Problems include increased plaque, fungal infections, dental decay, thin or peeling lining of the mouth, reduced ability to chew & eat, difficulty in swallowing and impaired taste sensation.

If you have diabetes, regular visits to the dentist for dental and oral health examinations are recommended. The dental team can offer individual advice to maximise oral health including effective plaque removal (brushing, flossing and the use of brushes that clean in-between teeth), the use of fluoride and treatments for a dry mouth, fungal or other oral infections. Following a healthy, balanced diet will help keep your blood glucose levels under control, and can reduce your risk of developing problems with your gums, teeth & mouth.

If you would like to know more about how your oral health & diabetes are linked, or would like any help or advice caring for your mouth, please contact us.


Author: Dr Judith Deeprose