The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Dangers in the mouth are silent but damaging.

Charles W Martin By Charles W Martin, DDS

Bacteria in your mouth are a fact of life. They cause tooth decay and they cause gum disease, both of which are controllable with regular dental check ups. Yeah, I know you've heard that all your life, but hear me out because people who have diabetes are more susceptible to infection by oral bacteria. And, once infected, you run greater risks of serious health consequences because of the interactions between diabetes and gum disease.

Of the 800 types of bacteria found in the mouth, most are relatively benign. But 300 of them are pathogens. That means they can cause infection or disease if their population isn't controlled with good brush, floss and see your dentist regularly to make sure any developing problems are caught quickly and treated.

But is that what's really happening? Lots of people are more concerned with a brilliant smile – not surprising given the push for teeth-whitening systems we've seen in recent years – than they are with making sure they get to the dentist regularly. And they're focused on that, often using in-home treatments to brighten their teeth while avoiding the routine cleaning and polishing.

Lots has improved in oral health in the United States in recent decades with treatments like dental sealants for kids and reports about lower rates of tooth decay in permanent teeth in just the last few years.

But a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently confirmed that one in three Americans over 30 has advanced gum disease or periodontitis, nine of 10 Americans have some tooth decay and three of 10 adults over 65 have no teeth at all. Researchers have found that people who have diabetes are 15 times more likely to be toothless than those who don't have diabetes. By that time, you're also at much higher risk of systemic interactions with your diabetes that are significantly more serious threats to your health.

Diabetes is just one of many diseases that are sometimes first diagnosed in the dentist's office. Others include Crohn's disease, skin diseases, autoimmune diseases, and cancer. And untreated dental woes can sap your energy. A mouth infection demands a constant fight response from the body, a sure way to wear you out and throw your metabolic management into a serious tailspin.

Some 35 percent of all Americans over age two haven't been to a dentist in over a year. We dentists sometimes wonder if people forget that their head is attached to the rest of their body. Yet healthy teeth and gums are one of the greatest self-esteem boosters in the world. It's your smile. Take care of it!

For more information about dental care for people who have diabetes, visit and Dr. Martin's blog,

To learn more about the two-way connection between diabetes and gum disease, check out the other columns here on dLife or Dr. Martin's book, Don't Sugar Coat It.

Read Dr. Charles Martin's bio here.

Read more of Dr. Martin's columns.

NOTE: The information is not intended to be a replacement or substitute for consultation with a qualified medical professional or for professional medical advice related to diabetes or another medical condition. Please contact your physician or medical professional with any questions and concerns about your medical condition. 

Last Modified Date: July 01, 2013

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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