Doctor providing comfort and smiling with the patient

Diabetes and Oral Health: Explaining the Connection

Sep 21, 2018

Author: Trish Jones

As a dental hygienist, you can help patients with diabetes understand the serious implications this disease has for their systemic health. Patients with diabetes may not realize the connection between diabetes and oral health, or that periodontal disease may aggravate diabetes and contribute to a rise in blood glucose.

Diabetes and poor oral health is a two-way street, says the American Diabetes Association. It's important to recognize the significant impact diabetes has on someone's life. Almost 29 million Americans have diabetes, and research has indicated that gum disease is prevalent in people suffering from diabetes.

What is the exact link between diabetes and poor oral health? How can you effectively emphasize the importance of regular dental visits and good home care habits?

The Link Between Diabetes and Poor Oral Health

Diabetes is a condition that affects many of the body's vital systems. According to the Mayo Clinic, this disease may damage nerves, the kidneys, the heart and vision, and it affects the body's ability to heal itself, among other complications.

When diabetes is not well controlled, high glucose levels in saliva may create an environment where bacteria can thrive. The bacteria can cause chronic inflammation and infection in the mouth. Since the body's resistance to infection is lowered in patients with diabetes, the gums can be more susceptible often leading to periodontal disease. According to the American Diabetes Association, patients with inadequate blood sugar control develop periodontal disease more often and more severely, and they lose more teeth than people whose diabetes is well controlled.

It also works the other way around in that plaque-induced periodontal disease is a bacterial infection has the potential to raise blood sugar levels, notes the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation.

Oral Complications of Diabetes

Patients with diabetes can be more vulnerable or have an increased incidence of oral complications. According to the American Dental Association, patients may develop xerostomia. Decreased salivary flow leads to a range of oral problems that dental hygienists are all too familiar with, including an increased risk for dental caries.

How to Explain the Importance of Oral Hygiene Routines

Because patients with diabetes have a whole host of problems to manage, taking care of their oral health may not be high on their priority list. This is where you can make a real difference. Explain to your patients that when they take better care of their teeth it can help them live a better life. Patients with diabetes are in and out of medical appointments on a frequent basis, so try to show understanding when you emphasize the importance of adding just one more important visit to their list: regular dental appointments.

Healing is also slower in patients with diabetes, so it may take longer for gum tissues to heal after subgingival debridement. Encourage patients to do their best to maintain a plaque-free mouth. Teach them to inspect their gums in a mirror and to notify you or the dentist if any bleeding persists in any area. Be sure to demonstrate and use your intraoral camera to indicate any problem areas to patients. Explain the link between an increased blood glucose level and periodontal disease, and the necessity of good oral hygiene to help prevent periodontal disease and its progression.

Instruct your patients to brush at least 2x per day with an antigingivitis, anticavity toothpaste like Colgate Total® and to floss and/or use an interdental cleaner to help remove accumulated bacteria. When calculus forms, patients may find it difficult to thoroughly brush and clean between teeth, and calculus should then be removed. Mouthwashes can help eliminate any loose food particles, and a mouthwash that is antibacterial, such as Colgate Total® mouthwash containing 0.075 percent cetylpyridnium chloride (CPC), can help reduce the level of oral bacteria. A fluoride mouthwash is also beneficial, helping to provide protection against dental caries.

Scheduling frequent hygiene visits and having proper at-home oral hygiene habits are crucial for patients with diabetes to help maintain oral health. It is critical to make sure you update the patient's health history during the dental visit, including medications currently being taken.


  • Recommend to patients with diabetes that they schedule regular dental visits to stay on top of their oral health.
  • Emphasize the importance of oral health and its association with diabetes.
  • Educate patients on how to maintain excellent home care oral hygiene habits.

Why It's Valuable

Patients with diabetes require extra care because of the associated dental problems that may arise. A poorly controlled blood glucose level can contribute to serious gum disease or periodontitis in addition to other health issues. Dental hygienists have an important role in instructing patients with diabetes on how to take care of their mouths at home. Remember you can direct your patients with diabetes to to get useful information on how to help manage their oral health.

Background Image

Was this article helpful?

Thank you for submitting your feedback!

If you’d like a response, Contact Us.