The Link Between Diabetes and Oral Health

Just as we know stress can lead to a series of health complications, your oral health may be compromised by your overall health. Diabetes can lead to mouth and oral health problems and oral health problems are also a risk factor that can make diabetes harder to control.

It’s a situation where left  unchecked, both conditions could continue to make the other worse with ultimately damaging, potentially fatal, consequences given diabetes’ link with heart disease and strokes.

According to the Department of Health Department of Health & Human Services, State Government of Victoria, diabetes is a common disease among Australians, affecting almost 1.5 million people (around 7.6 per cent of the population).

In this post we want to examine what factors can lead to oral health problems and what we can do to help prevent them.


Whilst it’s a contributing factor to a myriad of health problems, in the case of oral health issues it’s the main factor. High levels of sugar and starch interact with naturally occurring bacteria in the mouth to create plaque, a sticky film that attaches itself to teeth.

The acids in this plaque attack the surface of teeth, potentially leading to cavities and gum disease.

Given that diabetes leads to periods where the blood sugar level is raised, the supply of sugar and starch to the bacteria in the mouth is increased.

The more plaque created, the more damage done.

Dry Mouth

In many cases, someone with diabetes has a relative lack of saliva (xerostomia), without the mouth moist and teeth bathed in saliva, the risk of a range of dental and oral conditions is increased.

This negative association works the other way too, an oral problem such as periodontitis (serious gum disease), which is three times more likely among those with diabetes, has a high chance of further raising blood sugar levels, making diabetes harder to control.

Oral Health Issues That Can Be Brought on By Diabetes

Gingivitis is problematic but relatively easy to treat.  It is caused when the plaque builds up in areas where the teeth and gums have not been sufficiently cleaned and it is the by-products of the bacteria in this plaque, such as degradative enzymes and toxins which ultimately lead to gingivitis.

The growing complexity of the bacterial colonies and the toxins and enzymes produced lead to inflammation of the gums and then, potentially, the other unpleasant side effects of gingivitis.


These side effects are things many adults will experience at some stage – bleeding gums from brushing, red and inflamed gums and bad breath (halitosis) being the most common complaints. It is, of course, important to note that all three of those can also be caused by factors unrelated to gingivitis.

Gingivitis is undoubtedly unpleasant, if not necessarily outright painful. Having gums that bleed, red, inflamed gums and bad breath could clearly all affect self-esteem, stress levels and overall mood. What gingivitis will not be doing is causing long term damage. As unwelcome as it might be, it is not a condition that erodes the gums or will lead to tooth loss.


As unpleasant as gingivitis might be, it is not a condition that does long term damage by itself and is fairly easy to treat – the removal of the tartar by a dental hygienist the only treatment required.

However, gingivitis can become periodontitis, the more serious version of gum disease, a condition that leads to the erosion of tissue and bone and can make teeth become loose and eventually be at risk of falling out.

Periodontitis is a serious medical condition, one that is linked to heart disease and can also lead to an escalation of diabetes.

It is also a condition that requires specialist treatment, using a strong mouthwash isn’t going to solve the problem.

For the person suffering from bleeding gums it can be almost impossible to know whether they have gingivitis or periodontitis, the symptoms appearing similar even if the damage done is very different.

It is important to get the symptoms properly checked out by our dentist in Balwyn and this advice applies even more strongly to anyone with diabetes given the 300% increased likelihood of contacting periodontitis.


Diabetes can also lead to thrush, a fungal infection that can result in ulcers (painful white and red patches inside the mouth).

Furthermore, diabetes can lead to dry mouth which then further increases the risk of gum disease, the mouth lacking the saliva that naturally helps to fight bacteria. In short, there is a strong prevalence of gum disease amongst people who have diabetes.

How to reduce the risk of oral health problems.

Much of the advice for a person with diabetes is the same as for anyone and it starts with a good oral hygiene routine.

Your teeth should be brushed twice a day also don’t forget to floss.

The food you eat also has an impact on your dental health – avoid food high in sugar or acid.

Avoid Smoking

It doesn’t need to be stated but smoking is to be avoided for your over health The risk of contracting gum disease is higher for anyone who smokes, which is also true for mouth cancer.

We always recommend that you let our dentist in Balwyn  know that you have diabetes and are a smoker.

Given the heightened risk of contracting gum disease and then the circular impact this will have on the diabetes, it is essential that the health of your gums is monitored and tracked over time to stay on top of any issues at the earliest stage.

What to do next

The next steps for anyone with diabetes and concern over their oral health are straightforward, work to improve your oral hygiene and make sensible adjustments to your diet (and smokers, do try to quit, or at least cut down).

If you have any questions or concerns please arrange a check up with our dentist in Balwyn  on (03) 9859 3533