When you have diabetes, high blood sugar levels can take a toll on the entire body — including teeth and gums. The good news? Prevention is up to each individual.

Having prolonged high blood glucose levels can increase the risk of oral health problems, such as gum disease, also known as periodontitis.

Gum disease is classified according to the severity of its development. There are three stages of gum disease:

  • Gingivitis: is the initial stage of gum disease, caused by poor oral hygiene and irregular plaque removal from teeth, characterized by swollen, red and tender gums that can cause bleeding when brushing. Luckily gingivitis is reversible, and by improving one’s oral hygiene techniques and visiting the dentist or hygienist for advice on a home dental health care program, it should be possible to reverse this process.
  • Periodontitis (Mild): Untreated gingivitis can lead to mild periodontitis. The conversion of gingivitis to periodontics is more common in people who have a family history of gum disease, poor oral hygiene and uncontrolled diabetes. At this stage there will be damage to the gums and bone supporting the teeth. In order to prevent further damage a prompt visit to the dentist is required to prevent further progression.
  • Periodontitis (Severe): This is the most advanced stage of gum disease, characterized by significant tissue and bone loss around the teeth.

To help prevent damage to your teeth and gums, take diabetes and dental care seriously:

  • Make a commitment to manage your diabetes. Monitor your blood sugar level, and follow your doctor's instructions for keeping your blood sugar level within your target range. The better you control your blood sugars, the less likely you are to develop gingivitis and other dental problems.
  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day. Morning and at night, ideally also after meals and snacks. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and toothpaste that contains fluoride. Consider using an electric toothbrush, especially if you have arthritis or other problems that make it difficult to brush well. Get a new toothbrush at least every three months.
  • Floss your teeth at least once a day. Flossing helps remove plaque between your teeth and under your gumline. If you have trouble getting dental floss between your teeth, use the waxed variety. If you find it hard to manipulate the floss, use a floss holder.
  • Schedule regular dental visits. Visit your dentist at least twice a year for professional cleanings, X-rays and check-ups.
  • Look for early signs of gum disease. Report any signs of gum disease: redness, swelling and bleeding gums. Also mention any other signs and symptoms, such as dry mouth, loose teeth or mouth pain.
  • Don't smoke. Smoking increases the risk of serious diabetes complications, including gum disease and ultimately, loss of teeth. If you smoke, ask your doctor on options to help you stop smoking.

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