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Diet, diabetes and tooth decay

If you are one of the 16 million Americans with diabetes, you're probably aware that the disease can cause problems with your eyes, nerves, kidneys, heart and other parts of your body.

What you may not know is that diabetics are more susceptible to developing oral infections and gum (periodontal) disease than those who do not have diabetes.

Diet and tooth decay

Your teeth are covered with plaque, a sticky film of bacteria. After you have a meal, snack or beverage that contains sugars or starches, the bacteria release acids that attack tooth enamel. Repeated attacks can cause the enamel to break down and may eventually result in cavities.

When diabetes is not controlled properly, high glucose levels in saliva may help bacteria and plaque thrive. Plaque that is not removed can eventually harden into tartar. When tartar collects on your teeth, it makes a thorough cleaning of your teeth more difficult. This can create conditions that lead to chronic inflammation and infection in the mouth. Diabetes lowers your resistance to infection and can slow the healing process.

What you can do

  • Reduce or eliminate sugars and starches from your diet, eat healthy foods and exercise regularly.
  • Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and clean once a day between your teeth with floss or an interdental cleaner to remove decay-causing plaque.
  • Keep teeth and gums strong by keeping track of blood sugar levels. Also, have your triglycerides and cholesterol levels monitored.
  • Treat dental infections immediately. Diabetics who combine good dental care with insulin control typically have a better chance of avoiding gum disease.
  • Provide your medical and oral health histories to both your medical and dental care providers.
Information courtesy of the Academy of General Dentistry and the Academy of General Dentistry.