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Diabetes and Your Mouth: Keep Your Smile Healthy

Your mouth is home to millions of germs. Chronically high blood sugar disrupts the body's immune response to bacteria allowing them to grow. That’s one reason why people with diabetes are prone to getting periodontal (gum) disease. If you have diabetes, you need to take especially good care of your teeth and gums.

Gum Disease

The bacteria in your mouth form a sticky, naturally occurring substance called plaque. Plaque builds up on your teeth—especially along the gum line—unless you brush and floss regularly. If ignored, the plaque eventually hardens into tartar, the gritty stuff your dentist scrapes off when cleaning your teeth. Both plaque and tartar can lead to infection in your gums.

Early gum disease is called gingivitis. Gums can become swollen, red, and prone to bleeding. If left untreated, gingivitis can lead to a severe infection of the gums called periodontitis. It can cause the gums to come loose from the tooth root and recede, and the bone that holds your teeth in place to break down. You may notice bad breath, loose teeth, and pus when you press on the gums.

Other Problems

Diabetes makes it easier to get other kinds of mouth infections, too. People with diabetes often have dry mouth. Lack of saliva can lead to tooth decay. Swelling, pain when you chew, or sensitivity to hot, cold, or sweet foods can be signs of tooth decay or infection. White or red patches can signal a fungal infection called thrush. Thrush can be triggered by having high blood glucose, taking antibiotics, smoking, or wearing dentures that don’t fit well.

Keep Your Smile Bright

Protect your teeth and gums with these simple steps:

  • Keep your blood glucose controlled.

  • Brush your teeth twice a day using fluoride toothpaste. Gently brush all tooth surfaces and along the gum line.

  • Floss at least once a day. Flossing cleans plaque that your toothbrush can’t reach.

  • Get regular dental cleanings and checkups. Be sure to let your dentist know that you have diabetes.

  • Call your dentist if you notice bleeding gums, a swollen or sore area, or pain or sensitivity while eating.

If you need dental work, ask your doctor whether you need to take an antibiotic to prevent infection. While your mouth is healing, keep your blood glucose under control. Talk with your doctor about whether you need to check your blood glucose more often or change your diabetes medication.


“Diabetes and Your Smile.” Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association. Accessed 2016.

“Gum Disease.” American Dental Association. 2016.

“Inflammation and Factors That May Regulate Inflammatory Response.” T.E. Van Dyke and K. Kornman. Journal of Periodontology. 2008, vol. 79, no. 8s, pp. 1503–07. Abstract: Accessed 2016.

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