Having diabetes makes it more difficult to fight infections, including gum disease – and gum disease makes it harder to manage blood sugar.

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Nearly 2.5 million people in Washington have diabetes or pre-diabetes. Diabetes is a serious disease where the body’s blood glucose (blood sugar) level is too high. Our bodies get glucose or sugar from the food we eat and use it for energy. November is Diabetes Awareness Month, so it’s the perfect time to take a closer look at one of the surprising factors that can help manage diabetes – oral health.

Having diabetes makes people more susceptible to gum disease – but the reverse is also true: having gum disease makes managing blood sugar more difficult, leading to diabetes complications.  Gum disease is an infection, and the inflammation in the mouth can make it more difficult to manage blood sugar. It’s important to take steps to heal gum disease just as you would take action to treat an infection in other parts of the body.

Preventing infection is especially important for people with diabetes. Gum disease can lead to tooth and bone loss, which limits the ability to eat some of the nutritious foods necessary to keep blood sugar at healthy levels. Eating healthy is an important part of managing diabetes.  But it’s hard to eat healthy fruits and vegetable, such as carrots or apples, if it is painful to chew because of infected gums.

Signs of gum disease include:

  • Red or swollen gums
  • Tender or bleeding gums
  • Painful chewing
  • Loose teeth
  • Teeth that are sensitive to hot and cold
  • Receding gums
  • Bad breath that won’t go away

Maintaining good oral health helps keep the rest of the body in good health. Poor oral health is not only linked to diabetes, but also to heart disease and stroke.

Regular dental checkups can spot and treat problems before they become severe. According to Nicole Woodruff, nurse practitioner and Certified Diabetes Educator, “I see many patients who have difficulty managing their blood sugar, but they have more success after infections in their mouth are treated.  Good oral health is important for people with diabetes.”

Here are steps to improve oral health and prevent gum disease:

  • Brushing teeth twice daily helps clear the gum line of germs that build up, irritate and inflame. Use fluoride toothpaste because fluoride strengthens teeth. Each cavity prevented can save as much as $2,000 in health and dental costs over a lifetime.
  • In addition to brushing teeth, it’s important to clean between teeth every day. A toothbrush can’t reach into all the nooks and crannies between teeth. Floss, a Waterpik or tiny brush will help remove germs and food a toothbrush misses. Cleaning between teeth regularly also keeps breath fresh and helps prevent receding gums, a telltale sign of aging.
  • A healthy meal plan is an important part of managing blood sugar. Regular snacks can help, but grazing on sweet and sticky foods and drinks feeds the germs in the mouth, which can lead to decay. Instead, choose tooth-healthy snacks, including cheese, nuts, yogurt, lean meats, fresh fruits and vegetables.

Maintaining good oral health is an important step in managing diabetes, leading to better health overall.

Unleash the power of good oral health. Learn more at TheMightyMouth.org/diabetes.