a woman in yellow sweater testing her blood sugar

Gum Problems and Diabetes: Detection and Treatment

It’s always important to practise good oral hygiene. When you have diabetes, however, it’s even more crucial. That’s because diabetes can potentially lead to problems with teeth and gums. Luckily, with the right oral care and communication with your dentist, you can take steps to keep your teeth and gums healthy.

Believe it or not, your gums and diabetes are strongly linked. The South African Dental Association (SADA) confirms that many studies show an association between gum disease and diabetes. According to the American Dental Association, about 22% of people with diabetes have periodontal disease. Gum problems can lead to pain, bad breath, chewing difficulties, and even tooth loss, since this condition signals an infection of the gum and bone that hold the teeth in place. While these symptoms may seem frightening, having awareness is the first step to detecting them. That way, you can take measures and maintain a healthy smile while managing your diabetes.

What Causes Gum Problems in Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that affects your body's ability to process sugar. When you can't control your blood sugar, germs may proliferate in your mouth, which can in turn infect your gums. At the same time, gum problems can cause your blood sugar to rise, making diabetes more difficult to control, as you are both more susceptible to infections and less equipped to fight them. Luckily, good blood sugar control and practising excellent oral hygiene will help your body fight infections in your mouth. We'll talk about more specific treatment plans later in the article.

Is Periodontal Disease More Common in Type One or Type Two Diabetes?

Though the CDC reports that between 90-95% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes, there is no definitive evidence that periodontal disease is more common in type 2 diabetes. The key is understanding that diabetes is a significant risk factor for periodontitis. In fact, periodontitis is the sixth-most frequent complication of diabetes, as reported in a 2020 article in Frontiers in Endocrinology. So, whether you're diagnosed with type one or type two, managing your diabetes, along with excellent oral care, is more important than what type of diabetes you have when it comes to gum problems.

What If I Have Inflamed Gums?

If you notice that you have inflamed, tender or sensitive gums, you're not alone: it's a common condition for people with diabetes. But, having inflamed or swollen gums while also suffering from diabetes could be a sign of gum problems or periodontitis. As mentioned before, this is because too much glucose, or sugar, in your blood and saliva from diabetes can cause problems in your mouth, helping harmful germs grow, which leads to plaque that can cause gum problems. If you have inflamed gums, you should immediately make an appointment with your dentist and alert your doctor as well. You don't have to live in pain; your team can get you fit with the right treatment. 

Prevention and Treatment of Periodontal Disease If You Have Diabetes

A lot of this information may seem disheartening, but know that managing your diabetes will exponentially decrease the symptoms of conditions like periodontal disease and get you back to smiling more confidently. Research suggests that treating gum disease can help improve blood sugar control in patients living with diabetes, which can decrease the progression of the disease. Get in the habit of monitoring your gums daily for inflammation, redness, tenderness and sensitivity. Alert your dentist of your diabetes diagnosis to set up a treatment plan, and commit to excellent daily oral care.

Here are some ways you can practise good self-care if you have diabetes and want to reduce your risk of gum problems or inflammation:

  • Keep control of your blood sugar levels: use your diabetes-related medications as directed, eat a healthier diet, and incorporate exercise into your life. Good blood sugar control will help you fight infections in your mouth.
  • Avoid smoking.
  • If you wear dentures, clean them every day.
  • Practice excellent oral hygiene by brushing and cleaning between your teeth. Make sure to brush twice a day with a soft brush and floss daily.
  • See your dentist for regular check-ups, and discuss any symptoms like tenderness or swollen gums.

Managing gum inflammation and diabetes can be overwhelming, but you can do it! Maintaining excellent oral care, monitoring your mouth for gum problems, and getting regular dental care will decrease gum inflammation and the risk of severe periodontal disease, increasing the quality of your life—and the quality of your smile.