Keeping your mouth, teeth and gums healthy is an important part of managing your diabetes.
Living with diabetes doesn't mean you get free NHS dental treatment. You will still need to book regular check-ups with your dentist or find a dentist if you don't have one.
Another complication of diabetes is that you are more at risk of dental problems like gum disease, also called periodontal disease. We’ll help you understand why you’re at risk and how to keep your mouth healthy.
There is a link between diabetes and gum disease, each disease affecting the other, but we don’t exactly know why.
Gum disease is a very common disease. But when you have diabetes, your risk is higher.
Gum disease is caused by one group of bacteria in plaque that makes toxins that inflame the gums, known as gingivitis. It can cause loss of bone around your teeth and gum recession over time. This can lead to tooth loss, known as periodontitis.
Gums that bleed when you brush your teeth are never normal and you should see a dentist. Untreated gum disease will always get worse. Please note: You cannot catch gum disease from someone else.
Gum disease can increase your blood sugar levels which can make other complications of diabetes, such as heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidney and nerve problems worse.
Controlling gum disease can help you control your blood sugar levels.
People with type 2 diabetes are around three times more likely to develop dental problems than people who don’t have diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes are also more at risk.
You are also at greater risk of developing another very common disease, tooth decay, also known as caries.
Too much sugar in your blood can lead to more sugar in your saliva, and that creates the perfect breeding ground for a second group of plaque bacteria. This bacteria produces acid which attacks your tooth enamel and dentine causing cavities. The longer sugar is present, the higher the risk of tooth decay.
Looking after your teeth and gums should be a basic part of how you manage your diabetes. You can prevent these potential complications by spotting them early and getting the right treatment from your dentist.
We’ve got information on how to keep your mouth healthy – a big part of this is about regularly checking your blood sugars and trying to keep to your target range and how well you control your plaque every day.
Types of common dental problems
Mouth problems linked to your diabetes can mean:
- infection in the soft tissue and bone that support the teeth (periodontitis) and more gum recession
- tooth decay
- gum inflammation (gingivitis)
- dry mouth (xerostomia) that increases your risk of tooth decay
- fungal infections (oral thrush)
- irritated and sore mouth, meaning you might have difficulty wearing dentures
- tooth loss
The early signs of mouth problems are things like bleeding gums, loosening teeth and bad breath. Your teeth may be more sensitive to hot or cold drinks or ache as cavities develop. If you notice these, don’t ignore them and make an appointment with your dentist. Getting the right treatment early can prevent severe infections, tooth loss and other complications later.
How to keep your mouth healthy
Here’s what you need to think about to protect your teeth and gums. It is what you do every day that counts.
- Check your blood sugars – regularly check them and try to keep them in your target range.
- Brush twice a day – If you have gum recession, use interspace brushes rather than floss to clean between your teeth.
- See your dentist – having diabetes doesn’t mean you get free dental treatment but you need to book regular check-ups. Ask for your Basic Peridontal Examination scores and what they mean to help you to monitor your own gum health.
- Choose the right food and drink – follow a healthy, balanced diet which is low in sugar.
- Don’t smoke – smoking weakens your immune system, making it harder for you to fight a gum infection. And once you have gum disease, smoking makes it harder for your gums to heal. Get help with giving up smoking.
- Keep your dentures clean. Do not wear them when you are asleep. Make sure you clean them regularly as a build-up of fungi can lead to a type of thrush in the soft tissues under your denture.
Remember to talk to your diabetes healthcare team for more advice if you need it. And give our helpline a call if you’re worried about complications and need more support.