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Four Ways to Improve Your Oral Health

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Four Ways to Improve Your Oral Health

Diabetes can put you at risk for having oral health issues. For example, people with diabetes are more likely to have a higher chance of gum disease (called periodontal disease). If not caught and treated, periodontal disease can cause pain, bad breath, problems with chewing, and a loss of teeth. Taking care of your teeth and your mouth is especially important if you have diabetes. Here are four ways to make sure your teeth and gums stay healthy and happy!

1: Brush regularly for healthy teeth

Your dentist has probably told you a million times how important it is to brush your teeth every day. Why? Brushing helps to remove food and plaque, which is that sticky, gummy film that coats your teeth. Plaque contains bacteria (did you know that there are an estimated 300 different types of bacteria that live in your mouth?) that produces acids. These acids can attack and destroy your tooth enamel, leading to tooth decay.

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Brushing also helps to prevent a condition called gingivitis. Gingivitis is when your gums become red and swollen. If gingivitis progresses, it can become periodontitis, a serious infection that breaks down the bone and tissue holding your teeth in place. Left untreated, periodontitis loosens teeth and can cause tooth loss.

Action step

Brush your teeth at least twice a day, or as often as your dentist recommends, for at least two minutes. A soft-bristled toothbrush is usually the best choice, or you can look for a toothbrush that has the American Dental Association seal. Your dentist can also advise you on the best type of toothbrush, as well as toothpaste.

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2: Floss your teeth every day

A study published in 2017 in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology found that 35% of adults in the U.S. floss their teeth only once (or less!) times a week. Flossing may seem like one more thing to do as you get ready to go to bed, and it might even seem like a waste of time. Does it really matter if you floss or not? Yes, says the American Dental Association. Flossing gets between teeth to remove plaque where a toothbrush can’t reach. Plus, it dislodges particles of food, like that annoying piece of broccoli, between your teeth.

Action step

Making flossing a daily habit. Tie it to something you do every morning or every night before you go to bed, whether it’s brushing your teeth or taking your insulin. You can even do it after lunch! The most important thing is to floss daily. Dental floss is best, but floss picks are better than not flossing at all.

3: Ditch the dry mouth

Dry mouth, also called xerostomia, is more likely to occur if you have diabetes for a couple of reasons: high blood sugars and medication side effects. Metformin, a common drug used to treat diabetes, can cause dry mouth as can medications called ACE inhibitors, which are prescribed for kidney, heart, and nerve health. Along with these reasons, dry mouth can happen if you are dehydrated, if you smoke, or if you tend to breath through your mouth. Following a keto diet to help manage diabetes can also cause dry mouth. Dry mouth means a lack of sufficient saliva; saliva helps to prevent tooth decay and gum disease.

Action steps

Make sure to stay hydrated by sipping on water or other non-caloric beverages during day. Managing your blood sugars, stopping smoking, and chewing sugar-free gum can help, too. Talk with your doctor or dentist about using over-the-counter saliva substitutes or mouthwash designed for dry mouth.

4: Say “bye” to Burning Mouth Syndrome

Yes, there is such a thing as Burning Mouth Syndrome (BMS). BMS is a painful condition that causes a burning, scalding, or tingling feeling in the mouth. Dry mouth or taste changes can occur at the same time. The tongue is usually affected, but you may feel pain in your lips, roof of your mouth, or in your entire mouth. The pain can last for months or years; the pain may be reduced when you eat or drink. Certain medical conditions can cause BMS, including diabetes, thyroid issues, allergies, mouth infection, nutrition deficiencies, and acid reflux. Even toothpaste or a mouthwash that contains alcohol can cause BMS.

Action steps

If you have any type of pain or burning in your mouth, or if you’ve noticed that your taste has changed, be sure to let your dentist know. If you’re diagnosed with BMS, your dentist may recommend medication, saliva replacements, or oral rinses to help ease the symptoms. Avoid using tobacco, eating spicy or acidic foods, and alcoholic beverages.

Be sure to see your dentist twice a year for cleanings, X-rays, and checkups; putting off regular dental visits will only lead to worsening of oral health problems. Make sure to remind your dentist that you have diabetes, too. 

Want to learn more about keeping your mouth healthy with diabetes? Read “Diabetes and Dental Care,” “Diabetes and Oral Health,” and “Practice Good Oral Health for Diabetes.”

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES on social media

A Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Good Measures, LLC, where she is a CDE manager for a virtual diabetes program. Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition & Meal Planning, a co-author of 16 Myths of a Diabetic Diet, and has written for  publications including Diabetes Self-Management, Diabetes Spectrum, Clinical Diabetes, the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation’s newsletter, DiabeticConnect.com, and CDiabetes.com

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