5 Oral Health Danger Signs

Written by Julia Telfer, MPH

Diabetes can impact virtually every system in the body, and oral health is no exception. Research suggests that the relationship between diabetes and oral health is actually a two-way street—uncontrolled blood sugar levels increase risk of gum disease, and gum disease can also make diabetes harder to control.1,2

Here are five oral health danger signs to be aware of—and recommendations for keeping those pearly whites healthy and smile-worthy.

1. Dry mouth
Almost everyone has experienced dry mouth, but persistent dry mouth can lead to serious health problems such as cavities and infections. Signs include cracked lips, a dry throat or tongue, mouth sores, and trouble chewing, swallowing, or speaking. 

Dry mouth can be caused by certain medications and can also be a sign of high blood sugar levels or autonomic neuropathy—all of which impact the ability of the salivary glands to produce saliva. Your healthcare team may change your medications, prescribe a new medication to help your glands produce saliva, or suggest using artificial saliva.3

2. Bad breath
Bad breath can be caused by something as straight forward as the food you eat, but there are often more serious underlying causes. Poor dental hygiene can allow bacteria to build up, causing bad breath. Gum disease, dry mouth, cavities, and certain medications can also cause bad breath. Talk to your dentist and he or she will help you find a solution.4

3. Sore and/or bleeding gums
Inflammation of the gums caused by bacteria and plaque buildup is called gingivitis. This mild form of gum disease can usually be treated with improved oral hygiene. Gum disease is often painless, so regular visits to your dentist can help identify problems before they get too serious. If left untreated, gingivitis can lead to a more serious stage of gum disease called periodontitis. Keep an eye out for these symptoms:5

The good news is that gum disease is preventable—brushing and flossing regularly, in addition to quitting smoking, are key factors in preventing gum disease.6

4. Loose teeth
Once gingivitis progresses to periodontitis, the gums begin to pull away from the teeth. This exposes the gums to bacterial infections that break down the bone and connective tissue that hold teeth in place, causing them to loosen. Once this progresses far enough, you may need to have teeth removed.6

5. White patches
Those who have diabetes are more susceptible to fungal infections such as thrush, which is characterized by white or red patches in your mouth. Left untreated, these patches can turn into painful ulcers. If you think you have a fungal infection, talk to your doctor or dentist.7

Proper oral hygiene pointers

People with diabetes have special oral health needs. Here are a few tips to help ensure those needs are met:

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