Diabetes & Dental Problems

Just as diabetes increases your risk of skin infections, it also increases infections in your mouth and gums. Normally, saliva protects against bacterial growth in the mouth, but if you have insufficient saliva (dry mouth), food particles may collect around your teeth, causing cavities and gum infections as well as dental plaques that can damage your gums.

Individuals with diabetes are highly susceptible to cavities and to gum infection/inflammation (known as gingivitis), which can spread to the ligaments and bones that support the teeth (periodontitis).

Dry mouth and diabetic nerve damage can also cause burning sensations in the mouth or on the tongue. Burning mouth syndrome is characterized by burning pain on the tongue, the gums, other parts of the mouth or the throat. This may come from dry mouth or an oral fungal infection.

If you experience this sensation, see your dentist. He or she may prescribe saliva replacement tablets or an oral antifungal medication, depending on the cause.

According to Natalie Strand, M.D., an interventional pain management specialist that has been living with type 1 diabetes since the age of 12, "People with diabetes are two times more likely to develop gum disease. Serious gum disease may adversely affect blood glucose control and contribute to the progression of diabetes. To reduce this risk, brush for two minutes twice a day with a toothpaste specially formulated for gum health, floss once a day and get regular dental checkups."

Once again, controlling glucose levels is the best way to prevent these complications. Of course, preventing cavities and gum infections also means avoiding candy, soda, and other sugary foods as well as brushing and flossing your teeth every day.

Q: Should I get dental sealants to protect my teeth?

A: While you may consume less sugary food than people without diabetes, you may be more susceptible to dry mouth, which results from decreased saliva secretions; saliva helps prevent tooth decay. Dental sealants are thin plastic coatings that protect the teeth from cavities. They are not necessary for all people with diabetes, but they may be indicated if you've been prone to cavities in the past.—Our expert, Ronald Burakoff, M.D.M., M.P.H., Chairman, Dept. of Dental Medicine, Long Island Jewish Medical Center, New Hyde Park, NY

Written by: Christopher D. Saudek, M.D.; Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D. Updated by Remedy Health Media, from our sister publication Diabetes Focus Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 22 Apr 2009

Last Modified: 28 Jul 2014