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How Diabetes Affects Your Oral Health

A high blood sugar gives bacteria an easier environment to grow. (Getty Images)

Diabetes can affect your oral health in ways you might not expect.

First, when you have diabetes, it’s harder for your body to fight off infection, including gum disease. “Uncontrolled blood sugar lowers the healing response, which makes repairing gums and fighting off infection that much harder,” says Dr. Benjamin A. Lawlor of Maine Cosmetic Dentistry near Portland, Maine. “The mouth is the gateway to the body and is a perfect environment for bacteria to multiply.” Bacteria can then make its home in the gums. A healthy body finds it easier to fight off bacteria, but a body with disease (such as diabetes) or inflammation can’t fight that bacteria as easily. That can turn into a gum infection, Lawlor says.

[See: 10 Surprising Habits Killing Your Teeth.]

Without the right treatment, this can lead to more serious gum disease, called periodontitis, and eventually result in tissue damage and even tooth loss, says Dr. Katia Friedman, owner of Friedman Dental Group, with several locations in South Florida. “Millions of people don’t know they have this serious infection that can lead to tooth loss if not treated,” she says.

The link between oral health and diabetes also works in reverse – in other words, having a serious infection may contribute to rising blood sugar levels. “This means that not only does having diabetes make an infection harder to fight, but also having serious gum disease may make diabetes harder to control,” Friedman says.

Plus, a high blood sugar gives bacteria an easier environment to grow. “Having a higher blood sugar can increase the availability of sugars and allow the bacteria a near-constant supply of food, and thus, constant destruction to the gums,” Lawlor says.

There are other ways that untreated diabetes affects your oral health, Friedman says. You may have a drier mouth, and that puts you at a higher risk for cavities. It may be harder for wounds in your mouth to heal, and you may have problems tasting food.

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