What to Know About Diabetes and Oral Health

February 14,2024 |
woman at dentist

People living with diabetes have a higher risk of several complications. Some of these are more well-known, such as complications associated with blood vessels, but others aren't discussed as often. However, complications from diabetes can affect any part of the body—including the mouth. In fact, there are several oral complications of diabetes that can result in infection, decay, and more. To help you better understand this relationship, here's what you should know about diabetes and oral health.

The Relationship Between Diabetes and Oral Health

Diabetes affects your oral health more than you'd think. The two have a bidirectional relationship between each other, meaning that each one can negatively impact the other. For example, consider diabetes and periodontal disease. Diabetes increases your risk of the condition, but the inflammation from gum disease can also contribute to insulin resistance, further complicating diabetes management. But why does this happen?

First, it's important to understand how saliva, the fluid that keeps your mouth wet, plays a role. Saliva washes away bad bacteria and excess food, which helps keep your mouth healthy. Diabetes often changes saliva and decreases its overall production, making it harder to wash away bad bacteria inside your mouth between brushes.

High blood sugar levels from diabetes can also increase the amount of glucose in your saliva, which feeds bacteria and expedites plaque formation. This plaque can cause problems like tooth decay and gum disease when not removed. Luckily, preventative and proactive care of your mouth can increase overall health and reduce the risk of unnecessary dental procedures.

Common Oral Health Problems in People with Diabetes

As with many other systems in your body, diabetes can increase the severity of problems or make individuals more susceptible to developing them. Due to the relationship explained above, several oral conditions are more common in people with diabetes. Some of them include the following:

Dry Mouth

Diabetes may cause a reduction in saliva production, resulting in dry mouth. Saliva is essential for maintaining oral health as it helps to wash away bacteria and neutralize acids in the mouth. A dry mouth can contribute to an increased risk of tooth decay and other oral infections.


Good oral care helps keep away bad organisms like bacteria and fungi. Due to the heightened blood glucose levels in individuals with type 2 diabetes, a fungal infection called thrush becomes increasingly more common. Check your mouth regularly for any signs of sores or white patches on your tongue to reduce the risk of thrush progressing.


Gingivitis is a common oral health problem that affects people with and without diabetes. However, having diabetes can affect the seriousness or speed at which it develops. Gingivitis is the first stage of gum disease, also commonly known as periodontal disease. It's a serious condition that, when left untreated, can turn into periodontitis.

Gum Disease (Periodontitis)

This more severe type of gingivitis can affect the supportive bones and tissues in your mouth. Without proper dental treatment, the bones that keep your teeth in place may erode and result in irreversible damage or tooth loss. Unfortunately, this cannot be treated with at-home oral care, which is why it's so important to see your dentist at the first signs of gum disease.

Burning Mouth Syndrome

The combination of thrush and dry mouth can result in something called burning mouth syndrome. It's a type of mouth problem that can make you feel like you just burned your mouth or tongue with something hot, or it could numb your tongue.

Poor Wound Healing

Diabetes can cause slow or poor wound healing, which extends to wounds that occur in the mouth. This can increase your risk of infection and cause oral problems to persist for longer than in someone without diabetes.

Symptoms of Dental Problems Associated with Diabetes

Tooth and gum problems are fairly easy to spot if you know what symptoms to look for. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of oral conditions in children and adults with diabetes include:

  • Bleeding gums
  • Gums that are sore to the touch
  • Persistent bad breath
  • Teeth that are pulling away from the gums
  • Receding gum lines
  • Loose teeth
  • Spaces forming between teeth
  • Dry mouth

When to See a Doctor or Dentist

If you notice any signs of oral problems, it's important to schedule professional dental care as soon as possible. Some issues cannot be reversed, so they need to be addressed immediately. When you go for regular dental visits or cleanings, always ask your dentist about the state of your oral health. Understanding what's going on in your mouth can help you manage your diabetes more effectively, resulting in good oral health and fewer issues.

7 Ways to Be Proactive About Oral Health and Diabetes

While it can seem like a never-ending battle to care for your diabetes and maintain a healthy life, there are several ways that you can proactively protect yourself and reduce the risk of complications. When it comes to the health of your gums and teeth, many of the same guidelines apply to people with diabetes as those without. Barring a few extra precautions, consider the following tips to help maximize oral care while living with diabetes.

1. Eat a Balanced, Healthy Diet

A well-balanced diet is essential for overall health, including oral health. Incorporate a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products into your meals. Although diabetes meal plans should already limit your sugary and processed foods intake, paying special attention to this can also help prevent tooth decay and support better blood sugar control.

2. Keep Blood Sugar Levels Stable

Consistent blood sugar management is a cornerstone of diabetes care. By keeping blood sugar levels within the target range recommended by your healthcare provider, you promote overall health and reduce the risk of complications, including oral health issues. This can help you prevent gum disease and unnecessary oral surgery.

3. Manage Your Diabetes

In general, it's important to follow your healthcare provider's guidance on medications, insulin, and lifestyle modifications to effectively manage diabetes. Regular monitoring of blood glucose levels and adherence to the prescribed treatment plan can contribute to better oral health outcomes.

4. Brush Your Teeth Twice Daily

Brushing your teeth is a fundamental component of good oral hygiene. Use a fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush to clean your teeth thoroughly. Pay attention to the gumline and the surfaces of your teeth, and be consistent with this routine to prevent plaque and bacteria buildup. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIKKD) recommends that people with diabetes brush their teeth after every meal to take extra precautions against plaque buildup.

5. Floss Once a Day

Flossing is an often overlooked but crucial step in oral hygiene. It helps remove plaque and debris between the teeth, and along the gumline, areas a toothbrush may not reach effectively. Flossing daily can contribute to the prevention of gum disease and cavities, so try to include it in your nightly routine.

6. See Your Dentist Regularly

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends seeing your dentist at least twice a year to allow your dentist to monitor your oral health, detect potential issues early, and provide professional cleanings. Inform your dentist about your diabetes diagnosis and any changes in your health status.

7. Quit Smoking

Finally, if you smoke, quit. Smoking is detrimental to both oral health and overall health, and it can exacerbate the complications associated with diabetes. The ADA strongly recommends quitting smoking to reduce the risk of gum disease, tooth loss, and other oral health problems. If you're struggling, seek support from healthcare professionals or smoking cessation programs to quit successfully.

To help simplify your diabetes management and reduce the risk of complications, consider using diabetes management products from Byram Healthcare. We also provide diabetes support and educational resources for comprehensive care. Contact us today to learn more.