5 Tips to Prevent Gum Disease If You Have Diabetes

Gum disease can throw your numbers off

mature woman with toothbrush and smiling

Gum disease – or gingivitis – has been called the fifth complication of diabetes behind heart, nerve, kidney and eye disease. Gingivitis is simply the inflammation of the gums around your teeth caused by plaque buildup.

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So, why are you more at risk for developing gingivitis if you have diabetes?

Gum disease begins with bacteria build up on and around your teeth that extends into the gums.  There is no difference between the bacteria in the mouth of someone with diabetes compared to someone without diabetes. The reason gum disease is worse if you have diabetes is because you have a greater inflammatory response to this bacteria.

More difficult to control blood sugars

If untreated, gum disease can lead to something called periodontitis, or an erosion of the bone, which can lead to loose teeth and damage to the gums. People with uncontrolled diabetes tend to get periodontitis more often than the average person or those who keep their diabetes under control.

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Some signs that you have gum disease include red, swollen and/or bleeding gums, loose or sensitive teeth and persistent bad breath.

If a person with diabetes has moderately advanced periodontal disease, it can be more difficult for them to control their blood sugars. They may need deep cleaning, antibiotics or even oral surgery depending how advanced the gum disease is.

In 25 years of diabetes education, we have witnessed on multiple occasions that when people with diabetes see the dentist and address any current issues related to gum disease or inflammation, the blood glucose levels respond almost immediately.

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5 tips to avoid gum disease

Follow these tips to steer clear of gum disease:

  • Avoid acidic drinks like soda, energy drinks and water with lemon. These can erode the enamel of your teeth, which can lead to decay.
  • Floss daily between each tooth, sliding up and down and back and forth gently to avoid bleeding.
  • Brush your teeth and gum line for TWO full minutes, two times each day. Use a soft bristle brush using gentle strokes and make sure you reach all of your teeth. The goal is to get rid of plaque buildup. To do this, vibrate your brush across the tooth surface, the gum line and your gums.
  • Remember to gently brush your tongue for a few seconds, too, to get rid of bacteria.
  • See your dentist at least once a year and report any of the signs mentioned above immediately.

Other oral concerns:

  • People with diabetes are also more likely to have a dry mouth due to elevated blood glucose or medications. To avoid dry mouth, you can chew sugar-free gum, use a mouth gel or eat some sugar-free candy to stimulate saliva production. If these don’t help, talk to your dentist for recommendations.
  • Another popular thing these days is having shiny white teeth. Many are using over-the-counter teeth whiteners to achieve a whiter smile. The good news is that these products are mild enough to be used by people with diabetes too.

Source: The American Diabetes Association

Sue Cotey and Andrea Harris, RNs

Sue Cotey and Andrea Harris, RNs

Sue Cotey, RN, CDE, and Andrea Harris, RN, CDE, are Diabetes Educators with the Lennon Diabetes Center at the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Health Center. Sue is the Program Coordinator.
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