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Diet, diabetes and tooth decay

If you're one of the 34 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 people with diabetes are more susceptible to developing oral infections and gum (periodontal) disease than those who do not have diabetes. Diet is one of the most crucial elements for maintaining a healthy mouth if you have diabetes.

Diabetes 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 isn't controlled properly, high glucose levels in saliva can help the bacteria and plaque to thrive. Plaque that's not removed can eventually harden into tartar.

When tartar collects on your teeth, it makes a thorough cleaning of your teeth much 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 healthy 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.

Healthy eating when living with diabetes

Managing blood sugar is the key to managing diabetes, and eating well is the key to controlling your blood sugar. To maintain a healthy diet with diabetes, focus on eliminating sugars and starches and including the following foods:

  • Fresh vegetables. To help your body get dietary fiber and to help control blood sugar levels, eat plenty of vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, greens, peppers, potatoes, corn, green peas, tomatoes, etc.
  • Fruits. Focus on healthy carbohydrates found in fresh fruits such as oranges, melons, berries, apples, bananas and grapes.
  • Whole grains. Replace refined carbohydrates with the complex carbohydrates found in whole wheats and grains such as brown rice, oats, cornmeal, barley and quinoa.
  • Lean protein. Replace fatty meats with lean proteins such as skinless turkey or chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, dried beans and tofu.
  • Nonfat or low-fat dairy. Include dairy sources such as low-fat yogurt, milk and cheese for potassium, magnesium and calcium.

Delta Dental's diabetic-friendly recipes are a great resource if you're managing diabetes and trying to eat healthier. You'll find tasty ideas for breakfast, lunch and dinner, including:

Last updated April 04, 2022

The oral health information on this website is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.