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diabetes and gum disease

Understanding The Link Between Gum Disease And Diabetes

If you’re one of the 34 million and rising number of Americans living with diabetes, your physician has likely encouraged you to be diligent in maintaining the best in oral health. If not, then be sure to inform your dentist about your condition. Likewise, if you are one of the 75 million or so Americans affected by periodontal (gum) disease—especially if you have been diagnosed with severe periodontitis—inform your primary care doctor and be aware of diabetes symptoms.

Why, you ask?

Because there is a distinct link between the two diseases, if you are affected by one, you are at increased risk of being affected by the other. While researchers have long known that diabetes can raise the risk of gum disease, in the past two decades, studies have determined that the risks likely go both ways. Those with diabetes face a threefold increase in the risk of periodontitis. The diabetes risk posed by periodontal disease has not yet been quantified, but researchers know that periodontal inflammation negatively affects glycemic control, making it difficult to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.

With a proactive approach to treating their Southwest Florida diabetic patients, Marco Island dentists Dr. Jonathan Van Dyke and Dr. Ryan Whelen are familiar with the interplay between gum disease and diabetes. Let’s further examine the issue and review appropriate risk reduction tips.


According to the American Dental Association (ADA), periodontal disease is the most common oral affliction experienced by those living with diabetes, affecting an estimated 22 percent of all people diagnosed with Type I and Type II diabetes. Of those affected, almost 25% over the age of 50 have experienced severe tooth loss, compared with only 16% of those without diabetes.

Diabetics face increased gum disease risk mainly because the disease can cause a decrease in the quantity and quality of saliva produced by the salivary glands. Saliva is critically important for oral health because it helps lubricate the mouth, washes away debris, protects tissues, and prevents bacteria growth. A decrease in quantity or quality can cause dry mouth and a loss of the saliva’s antibacterial properties, allowing for bacterial buildup and the formation of plaque, tartar, and enhanced risk or progression of gum disease.

Additionally, those with diabetes typically experience a more intense inflammatory response to the bacteria, which furthers the progression and severity of gum disease. Meanwhile, high blood sugar levels can interfere with wound healing, hindering the body’s natural response to any bacterial-induced infection.


The ADA notes that poor blood sugar control increases the risk of gum problems, which in turn can cause blood sugar to rise. The increase in blood sugar can lead to diabetes, which further elevates the risk of mouth infections and periodontal disease progression. In short, all the elements needed to create a diabetes-periodontal disease vicious circle.

Researchers continue to study how and why periodontal disease influences the progression of gum disease and causes other impacts on oral health. In part, researchers believe that the diabetes-influenced oral health problems make it more difficult to keep blood sugar levels in check, in what can be considered a broadening of the vicious circle. Consider that diabetes has also been linked to the following mouth problems, all of which may make it difficult to conform to a diabetic-friendly meal plan:

  • Tooth decay
  • Thrush
  • Changes in taste
  • Burning mouth syndrome (caused by uncontrolled blood sugar levels)


The ADA and numerous other health organizations agree that healthy maintenance of gum disease provides positive health benefits to help prevent and control diabetes. In a similar vein, those who keep their diabetes under control decrease their gum disease risk. Following these tips may help keep diabetes and gum disease under control:

  • Control blood sugar levels by taking diabetes-related medications as prescribed and follow other medical directives.
  • Maintain a healthy diet and get plenty of exercise.
  • Brush with a soft-bristle brush at least twice a day and floss daily.
  • Avoid smoking and other tobacco use (seek professional help, if necessary, to quit).
  • Schedule at least two regular dental check-ups per year.
  • Diligently clean dentures or removable bridgework daily.
  • Consult with your dentist about the frequency of dental appointments and cleaning.
  • Ask your dentist to schedule deep cleanings as warranted (research suggests such cleaning can help reduce average blood sugar levels).
  • Use medicated rinses to control dry mouth, as recommended by your dentist.


If you have diabetes, high blood sugar levels, or periodontal disease, you should prioritize your oral health to help keep them under control. Southwest Florida’s Island Tower Dentistry customizes dental plans for its diabetic patients to ensure optimal periodontal treatment and blood sugar level control. If you have diabetes, please be sure to inform your dentist or one of our dental assistants in our Marco Island practice so that we can design the perfect plan for you. We work with you and your physician to ensure the development of an oral health plan that works best for your specific condition. To learn more about Island Tower Dentistry’s approach to diabetic patients, schedule an appointment with Dr. Van Dyke or Dr. Whelen in the Marco Island, Florida, area at 239-394-1004.

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