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What Does Gum Disease Have to Do With Diabetes?

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When it comes to preventing and managing diabetes, the last thing that probably comes to mind is your teeth and gums... but your oral health is actually an incredibly important factor in your body's ability to stay well.

Not only does keeping your teeth and gums healthy reduce your risk of developing diabetes, but it can also help you to keep diabetes under control.

What Makes Gum Disease so Dangerous?

Gum disease is incredibly common, impacting about 80 percent of adults during their lifetimes.[1] At its most basic level, gum disease is caused by the bacteria in plaque, which cause your gums to become inflamed.

At first this leads to gingivitis, which causes red and swollen gums that are prone to bleeding easily. If treated at this point (with a trip to the dentist and attention to proper oral hygiene at home), the condition can often be reversed.

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However, if left untreated gingivitis can progress into periodontitis, a type of gum disease in which plaque spreads and grows beneath your gum line. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, the bacteria in the plaque produce toxins that stimulate a chronic inflammatory response in your body, which destroys tissues and bone that support your teeth.[2]

It's bad enough that this often leads to tooth loss, but even more serious it may spread throughout your system, leading to chronic diseases like heart disease, respiratory disease and diabetes.

Signs and Symptoms to Watch Out For

If you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, you should be on the lookout for warning signs of gum disease, such as:[3]

  • Red, swollen or painful gums
  • Bleeding when brushing, flossing or eating hard foods
  • Receding gums
  • Loose or separating teeth
  • Sores in your mouth or pus between your gums and teeth
  • Persistent bad breath

On top of diabetes, if you smoke, are under serious stress, are pregnant or are taking certain medications your risk of gum disease may be further increased.

How Your Oral Health Impacts Diabetes

Gum disease causes an inflammatory condition in your body, and inflammation is intricately linked to the development of type 2 diabetes. Gum disease may also impact insulin sensitivity and cause your blood sugar levels to rise, making your diabetes harder to control.

If you have diabetes, which makes you more prone to infection, it also increases your risk of developing gum disease, especially if your diabetes is not under control. People with diabetes generally have a harder time fighting off bacterial infections, which makes them particularly susceptible to gum disease.

For those who already have diabetes, keeping blood sugar levels well under control will cut down on your risk of developing gum disease. Further, everyone should take the precautions listed at the end of this article to keep their oral health in top condition.

Your Oral Health and Your Heart

One of the most serious diabetes complications is an increased risk of heart disease. People with diabetes are twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke than people without.

However, gum disease also increases your risk of heart problems, by up to double compared to people without. It's thought that gum disease increases heart risks both by increasing inflammation and contributing to clot formation in your arteries. Gum disease can also make any existing heart problems worse, which is a particularly serious concern for diabetics, who are already at increased risk of such problems.

So if you have both diabetes and gum disease, you should know that your heart risks are exponentially increased, and getting both conditions under control could be a matter of life and death.

Unhealthy Teeth and Gums Even Make Pre-Diabetes Worse

If you have pre-diabetes, which impacts an estimated 54 million Americans, your blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be labeled as type 2 diabetes. If left untreated, a majority of people with pre-diabetes will develop the full-blown disease within 10 years.

Gum disease complicates the matter even further, as research shows that pre-diabetes not only worsens periodontitis, but periodontitis leads to deterioration in glucose metabolism that may contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes.[4]

Tips for Prevention

Maintaining oral health is important for all of us, but if you have type 2 diabetes, pre-diabetes or risk factors for diabetes (overweight or obese, lack of exercise, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, family history, etc.) you had best keep a close eye on your teeth and gum health.

To best stave off gum disease, including the more serious periodontitis:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day (or even better, every time you finish eating)
  • Floss at least once a day
  • See your dentist regularly for cleanings and checkup (about once every six months)
  • Replace your toothbrush at least every four months, and consider an electric toothbrush, which may help remove plaque and tartar more effectively

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You can also help prevent this condition by keeping your diabetes under control (and vice versa, you can help prevent diabetes by keeping your teeth and gums healthy).

Another important point to keep in mind, your diet can also impact your risk of both diabetes and gum disease, with sugar and refined foods among the primary culprits. Following a sensible, nutrient-rich diet like the delicious diabetes-friendly nutrition program that we recommend at the Functional Endocrinology Center of Colorado may help to keep both diabetes and gum disease at bay.


1. American Diabetes Association "Gum Disease"
2. American Academy of Periodontology "Types of Gum Disease"
3. American Academy of Periodontology "Symptoms of Gum Disease"
4. Journal of Periodontology March 2007, Vol. 78, No. 3, Pages 559-565

The Functional Endocrinology Center of Colorado provides hope to patients with Type II Diabetes and Hypothyroidism by providing alternative paths to care. Founded by Dr. Brandon Credeur, DC, and Dr. Heather Credeur, DC, the center is located at 4155 E Jewell Ave, Ste 1018, Denver, CO 80222, 303-302-0933, [].

Copyright 2010. All Rights Reserved. The Functional Endocrinology Center of Colorado.

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