Having A Healthy Mouth Helps With Diabetes Management

By Scott Kennedy, MD

Most people understand the importance of regular brushing, flossing and dentist visits to promote overall oral health and to treat dental problems in their initial stages. What many people don’t know is that if you have diabetes, these preventive actions can actually help you better manage your blood sugar and diabetes.

When diabetes is not properly controlled, the resulting high blood glucose (sugar) levels found in the saliva provide an ideal environment in the mouth for bacteria to thrive. These bacteria build up, causing plaque that irritates the gums and leads to chronic inflammation and infection in the mouth over time. As happens in people with diabetes, the infection can cause the blood sugar to rise higher. This makes diabetes even harder to manage because you are even more susceptible to infection (both in your mouth or systemically) and are less able to fight the bacteria invading the gums.

For those age 45 and older whose blood glucose levels are not well-controlled, the risk of developing severe gum disease is nearly triple that of those who do not have diabetes. Even in people who have not been diagnosed with diabetes, gum disease can make blood sugar difficult to control, and blood sugars left unchecked can lead to complications. Plus, eating healthy foods that are part of your diabetes management plan can be more challenging with gum disease. Imagine eating an apple if you’re missing a few teeth and your gums are in pain. Taking care of your mouth will help you continue to eat healthy foods and have better control of your blood sugar.

Living with diabetes can be challenging, but keeping your mouth healthy does not have to be. Here are five tips to enhance your oral health:

  • Keep your blood glucose in a healthy range. People with gum disease may have a harder time lowering their glucose levels and may need to change their diabetes care plan.
  • Practice good home care:
    • Brush twice daily with fluoride toothpaste
    • Floss daily
    • Use a mouth rinse with fluoride
    • Drink water (fluoridated is best) instead of soda and other sugary drinks
    • Get regular dental checkups and be sure to tell your dentist you have diabetes.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet that includes healthy snacks like:
    • Low-fat cheese
    • Fresh fruit
    • Vegetables
    • Nuts
  • If you smoke, do all you can to quit. Smoking worsens oral disease.

Gum Disease Warning Sign

Like type 2 diabetes, gum disease is often silent, which means symptoms can be hard to detect until the disease is advanced. The following is a list of warning signs that you need to take note of:

  • Red, swollen, or tender gums
  • Mouth pain
  • Bleeding while brushing, flossing, or eating hard foods
  • Receding gums
  • Loose or separating teeth
  • Mouth sores
  • Persistent bad breath
  • Changes in the way your teeth fit together when you bite or a change in the fit of partial dentures.

For more information about diabetes and dental disease, refer to the following resources:
American Diabetes Association: http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/oral-health-and-hygiene/
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research: http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/Topics/Diabetes/
The Mighty Mouth: http://www.themightymouth.org/

Dr. Scott Kennedy is Chief Medical Officer and Chief Operations Officer at Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles, Washington. A family medicine physician by training, Dr. Kennedy has been in his position at Olympic Medical Center for more than 12 years. Dr. Kennedy serves on the board of the Washington Dental Service Foundation and is a staunch supporter of initiatives that support public health and prevention, including evidence-based medicine, CDC-recommended immunizations, and water fluoridation. Dr. Kennedy earned his medical degree from the University of Washington and completed his residency at Tacoma Family Medicine.