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Understanding Your Dental Health and Diabetes

two hands holding diabetes prevention ribbons

November marked National Diabetes Month — a time to bring awareness to the disease and take action to lower your risk and prevent related health problems. However, it is important to raise awareness year-round. In the U.S. alone, approximately 34 million people live with diabetes and 1.4 million are diagnosed each year. From what most people know of the disease, managing your blood sugar is crucial. However, having diabetes leaves your mouth susceptible to oral health issues as well.

Recent research has found that patients with diabetes have an increased risk for developing oral health issues, such as periodontitis. The American Dental Association reported that gum disease “is the most common dental concern for people living with diabetes,” and it affects about 22% of people with Type I and II diabetes. Notably, researchers have said that periodontitis and diabetes have a two-way relationship. Diabetes is a major risk factor for developing periodontitis. In addition, inflammation from periodontitis increases the risk for poor control of blood sugar in people living with diabetes.

While periodontitis is the most common dental concern, patients are also more likely to develop other oral health problems such as:

  • Dry mouth. Saliva protects your mouth against tooth decay, but an adequate flow can cause bad breath and in worse cases, tooth decay.
  • Oral thrush is a fungal infection that can develop from stress or illness, specifically when the fungus grows out of control. Patients with thrush will notice white spots on their tongue and cheeks.
  • Early gum disease (gingivitis). Caused by a buildup of plaque, gingivitis is the early stage of a gum infection. Symptoms may include swollen, tender gums, bad breath and gums that bleed easily.

Maintaining a strong oral health routine can help combat gum disease and other health conditions. Any symptoms of oral health problems do not appear overnight, so there are many options for patients to reduce their risk and maintain their oral health.

Things to keep in mind to maintain oral health:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day. It is important to brush at least twice daily (ideally in the morning and right before bedtime for at least two minutes each session) to prevent gum disease, cavities, and other dental problems.
  • Floss at least once a day. Flossing your teeth daily can help reduce bad breath, dental plaque buildup, bleeding gums, and other oral problems. Studies report that brushing cleans about 60% of teeth, so flossing is crucial to remove debris a standard toothbrush leaves behind.
  • Clean your gums. Gently brush your gums to clean the entire surface area of your teeth, as well as the gums.
  • Visit your dentist at least twice a year. Most patients schedule a cleaning every six months, but your dentist will suggest the frequency of your visits based on the health of your gums.
  • Mention to your dentist that you have diabetes. Notifying your dentist will let them know you’re at a higher risk of developing gum disease and may influence the medications they prescribe you.

The UIC College of Dentistry offers services in comprehensive, urgent, and specialty care. To schedule an appointment, please visit