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Diabetes and Oral Health

Learn how diabetes impacts oral health, from gum disease to cavities. Get tips on managing oral health for people with diabetes.

Preventive Dental Care


Published on 25 Apr 2024


By Thomson Team


What is diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus, commonly referred to as diabetes, is a chronic medical condition that occurs when the body is unable to properly regulate blood glucose (sugar) levels. Glucose is a crucial source of energy for the cells, and its levels need to be carefully controlled within the body. This regulation is primarily managed by insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas.

Type of diabetes

  1. Type 1 Diabetes

  2. Type 2 Diabetes

  3. Gestational Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes

  • Cause: Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. The exact cause is not fully understood.

  • Onset: It often develops in children or young adults, and people with type 1 diabetes require lifelong insulin therapy.

Type 2 diabetes

  • Cause: Type 2 diabetes is characterised by insulin resistance, where the body's cells do not respond effectively to insulin. Over time, the pancreas may also produce insufficient insulin.

  • Onset: It typically develops in adults, but it is becoming more common in children and adolescents, especially with rising rates of obesity and sedentary lifestyles.

  • Risk factors: Obesity, physical inactivity, genetics, and age are among the risk factors for type 2 diabetes.

Gestational diabetes

  • Cause: Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy when the body cannot produce enough insulin to meet the increased needs. It usually resolves after childbirth.

  • Risk factors: Risk factors include being overweight, having a family history of diabetes, and certain ethnic background.

How does diabetes affect your oral health?

Diabetes can have an impact on oral health, and individuals with diabetes are at an increased risk of developing various oral health issues. The relationship between diabetes and oral health is bidirectional, meaning that one condition can influence the other. Here are some ways in which diabetes can impact oral health:

  1. Gum disease (periodontal disease):

    • Connection: Diabetes is associated with an increased risk of gum disease, and gum disease can make it more challenging to control blood sugar levels.

    • Symptoms: Swollen, red, and bleeding gums are common symptoms of gum disease.

    • Risk: Individuals with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing more severe forms of gum disease.

  2. Dry mouth (xerostomia):

    • Connection: Diabetes can lead to reduced saliva production, resulting in dry mouth.

    • Symptoms: Dry mouth can cause discomfort, difficulty swallowing, and an increased risk of tooth decay.

    • Risk: Reduced saliva flow contributes to a higher risk of oral infections.

  3. Cavities (tooth decay):

    • Connection: Diabetes may increase the risk of tooth decay due to elevated blood sugar levels in your saliva.

    • Symptoms: Cavities can cause toothache, sensitivity, and visible holes in the teeth.

    • Risk: Poorly controlled diabetes is associated with a higher incidence of cavities.

  4. Oral thrush and fungal infections:

    • Connection: Individuals with diabetes, especially those with poorly controlled blood sugar, may be more susceptible to fungal infections, including oral thrush.

    • Symptoms: White patches on the tongue and inside the mouth are characteristic of oral thrush.

    • Risk: Elevated blood sugar levels create an environment conducive to fungal growth.

  5. Delayed wound healing:

    • Connection: Diabetes can impair the body's ability to heal, including wounds in the oral cavity.

    • Symptoms: Slow healing of cuts, sores, or oral injuries.

    • Risk: Increased susceptibility to infections and complications following dental procedures.

  6. Changes in taste:

    • Connection: Diabetes may lead to alterations in taste perception.

    • Symptoms: Changes in the sense of taste or a persistent metallic taste in the mouth.

    • Risk: Altered taste may affect appetite and nutritional intake.

  7. Increased susceptibility to infections:

    • Connection: Diabetes can weaken the immune system, making individuals more prone to oral infections.

    • Symptoms: Persistent or recurrent oral infections, such as abscesses or ulcers.

    • Risk: Infections may be more challenging to control and resolve.

Dental care for people with diabetes

Dental care for people with diabetes requires a comprehensive and collaborative approach between dental professionals and diabetes healthcare providers. Individuals with diabetes are at an increased risk of developing oral health issues, so proactive management and regular dental care are essential. Here are key considerations for dental treatment for people with diabetes:

  1. Communication between healthcare providers:

    • Encourage communication between your dentist and the diabetes healthcare team. Both teams should be aware of your overall health status and collaborate to provide integrated care.

  2. Preventive dental care:

    • Emphasise preventive measures, including regular dental check-ups, cleanings, and fluoride treatments to maintain optimal oral health.

  3. Control blood sugar levels:

    • Maintain well-controlled blood sugar levels through regular monitoring, medication adherence, and lifestyle management. Good diabetes control contributes to better oral health outcomes.

  4. Dental check-ups:

    • Schedule regular dental check-ups at least twice a year, or as recommended by your dentist. Early detection and intervention can prevent or manage oral health issues effectively.

  5. Professional dental cleanings:

    • Undergo professional dental cleanings to remove plaque and tartar. Individuals with diabetes may benefit from more frequent cleanings to reduce the risk of gum disease.

  6. Periodontal care:

    • Monitor and manage periodontal (gum) health carefully. Periodontal disease is more prevalent in individuals with diabetes and can impact blood sugar control.

  7. Management of dry mouth:

    • If you experience dry mouth, stay hydrated, use sugar-free gum or lozenges, and consider artificial saliva substitutes. Dry mouth can increase the risk of tooth decay and infections.

  8. Patient education:

    • Provide education on the relationship between diabetes and oral health. Empower individuals with diabetes to practice good oral hygiene and recognise the signs of potential issues.

  9. Dental procedures and blood sugar monitoring:

    • For individuals with diabetes, especially those requiring oral surgery, coordinate with your diabetes healthcare team to monitor and manage blood sugar levels around the time of dental procedures.

  10. Special considerations for medications:

    • Be aware of any oral side effects of medications used to manage diabetes. Inform your dentist of your medication list to ensure a comprehensive understanding of your health status.

  11. Emergency preparedness:

    • Individuals with diabetes should have a plan for managing blood sugar levels during times of stress, illness, or dental emergencies. Share this plan with both your dentist and diabetes healthcare team.

  12. Smoking cessation support:

    • If you smoke and have diabetes, quitting smoking is crucial for both oral and overall health. Seek support and resources to quit.

Remember, each person's situation is unique, and dental treatment plans should be tailored to individual needs. Open and ongoing communication between healthcare providers and active participation in oral care is essential for promoting optimal oral health in individuals with diabetes.


Why is dental care important for people with diabetes?

Dental care is crucial for individuals with diabetes because they are at an increased risk of oral health issues such as gum disease, cavities, and dry mouth. Good oral health contributes to overall well-being and helps in managing diabetes.

How often should individuals with diabetes see a dentist?

Regular dental check-ups are typically recommended at least twice a year. However, individuals with diabetes may benefit from more frequent visits based on their specific needs and risks.

Can diabetes affect oral health?

Yes, diabetes can impact oral health. Individuals with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing gum disease, cavities, dry mouth, and other oral health issues.

Why are people with diabetes at higher risk of gum problems?

People with uncontrolled diabetes tend to produce less saliva. This results in reduced protective effects from the saliva. Furthermore, the presence of sugar in saliva is increased in those with uncontrolled diabetes leading to increased bacterial activity in the mouth. These conditions make people with diabetes have an increased risk of gum disease. Furthermore, studies have shown that gum disease can make it more challenging to control blood sugar levels, which then worsens the gum disease making it a vicious cycle.

It is essential to maintain good oral hygiene, including regular brushing, flossing, and professional dental cleanings, to prevent and manage gum disease. Furthermore, it is important to keep all medical appointment records and take any medications as prescribed by your doctor to ensure good blood sugar control.

How can individuals with diabetes manage dry mouth?

Stay hydrated by drinking water regularly. Use sugar-free gum or lozenges to stimulate saliva production. Artificial saliva substitutes may also be recommended under the guidance of a dentist.

How does diabetes affect dental treatment?

Elevated blood sugar levels can affect the healing process after dental procedures. It is important to coordinate with your diabetes healthcare team and dentist to manage blood sugar levels before, during, and after dental procedures.

Are there specific dental products for individuals with diabetes?

While there may not be specific dental products for individuals with diabetes, dentists may recommend products such as fluoride toothpaste, sugar-free gum, or artificial saliva substitutes based on individual needs.

Can diabetes-related changes affect orthodontic or prosthetic treatments?

Diabetes-related changes in tooth development or jaw structure may require special consideration for orthodontic or prosthetic interventions. It is important to discuss these considerations with your dentist.

Is there a connection between smoking, diabetes, and oral health?

Yes, smoking is a risk factor for both diabetes and oral health issues, including gum disease. Quitting smoking is beneficial for overall health and oral health outcomes.

How can individuals with diabetes prepare for dental emergencies?

Individuals with diabetes should have a plan for managing blood sugar levels during dental emergencies. It is important to communicate this plan with both the dentist and the diabetes healthcare team.

Can good oral health contribute to better diabetes management?

Yes, there is a bidirectional relationship between oral health and diabetes. Good oral health can positively influence diabetes management, and vice versa. Controlling blood sugar levels and maintaining oral health are interconnected for overall well-being.

What are the signs of diabetes in the mouth?

While there are no directly associated clinical features of diabetes in the oral cavity, certain conditions may lead your dentist to suspect that you may have diabetes and they may suggest that you visit your doctor for appropriate management. These conditions include: 

  1. Gum disease (Periodontitis): Diabetes is linked to a higher risk of gum infections and periodontal disease. Although not everyone with gum disease has diabetes, a fast progression of the condition and the loss of several teeth in a brief period might prompt your dentist to consider the possibility of diabetes. If such symptoms are observed, your dentist may recommend consulting your doctor for further evaluation.

  2. Dry mouth (Xerostomia): Diabetes can cause a decrease in saliva production, leading to a dry mouth. This can contribute to discomfort, difficulty in speaking and swallowing, and an increased risk of dental decay.

  3. Thrush (Candidiasis): People with diabetes may be more susceptible to oral yeast infections, resulting in the development of white patches on the tongue and inside the cheeks.

  4. Burning mouth syndrome: Some individuals with diabetes may experience a burning sensation in the mouth, often on the tongue. This condition is known as burning mouth syndrome and can be related to diabetes.

  5. Taste alterations: Diabetes may affect the sense of taste, leading to changes in the perception of flavours or a persistent metallic taste in the mouth.

  6. Delayed wound healing: If there are cuts, sores, or other wounds in the mouth, diabetes may slow down the healing process, making these issues linger longer than usual.

Can a dentist tell if you have diabetes?

A dentist may suspect or identify signs of diabetes during a dental examination. While dentists are not trained to diagnose diabetes definitively, they can observe oral manifestations and suggest further medical evaluation. Certain conditions like delayed wound healing, oral thrush, gum disease, dry mouth, or taste disturbances may lead your dentist to suspect that you may have diabetes. 

Though these signs may suggest diabetes, they alone do not confirm the diagnosis. If a dentist observes potential indicators of diabetes in a patient's oral health, they will typically advise the patient to seek a comprehensive medical evaluation and appropriate testing from a doctor.

What is diabetic tongue?

"Diabetic tongue" is not a recognised medical term. However, people with diabetes may experience various oral health issues, and some symptoms affecting the tongue could be associated with diabetes-related complications. It is important to note that specific terms used colloquially may not have a medical definition.

In the context of diabetes, individuals may sometimes use the term "diabetic tongue" to describe symptoms such as changes in taste, a burning sensation, or other discomfort affecting the tongue. These symptoms could be related to conditions like:

  1. Burning mouth syndrome: This condition, though not exclusive to diabetes, can cause a burning or tingling sensation on the tongue, lips, or throughout the mouth.

  2. Changes in taste: Diabetes can affect the sense of taste, leading to alterations in the perception of flavors or a persistent metallic taste in the mouth.

  3. Dry mouth (Xerostomia): Diabetes may contribute to decreased saliva production, leading to a dry mouth. This can affect the overall comfort of the oral cavity, including the tongue.

It is essential to consult with a healthcare professional, such as a dentist or a doctor, if you experience any oral symptoms, as they can provide a proper diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment. Oral health is an integral part of overall well-being, and managing diabetes involves a comprehensive approach that includes monitoring and addressing potential oral complications.

For more information, contact us:

Thomson Dental Centre

Call: 6255 0770

WhatsApp: 8716 9594

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