If You Notice This in Your Mouth, Get Checked for Diabetes

It's one of the most common complications of the condition, experts say.

When it comes to diabetes, certain symptoms are considered common: increased thirst or hunger, vision changes, fatigue, and frequent urination, to name just a few. However, there's one that affects many diabetics yet frequently flies under the radar—and oddly, you may notice it in your mouth. The Mayo Clinic says that if you do experience this particular symptom, however subtle, it may be time to call your medical provider. Read on to find out which surprising diabetes symptom may be affecting your oral health, and how to avoid developing a serious problem.

RELATED: If You Notice This on Your Legs, Get Checked for Diabetes Now, Experts Say.

If you have red, swollen gums, it may be the result of diabetes.

Closeup of woman with gum disease
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Though the connection is not always apparent to patients, experts say that dental health and diabetes are closely linked. Those with diabetes are more likely to develop periodontal disease—also known as gum disease—a condition that can lead to pain, inflamed gums, bad breath, or even tooth loss.
In fact, a 2020 study in the journal Frontiers in Endocrinology found that periodontitis is the sixth-most common complication of diabetes, affecting roughly 22 percent of those with the condition.

According to the Mayo Clinic, this symptom is more than a nuisance in the context of diabetes—it requires medical attention. If you do experience red, swollen gums and believe you could have a blood sugar imbalance, you should not only contact your dentist but your general practitioner as well.

RELATED: If You See This on Your Nails, It Could Be a Tell-Tale Sign of Diabetes.

Here's why it happens.

Man brushing teeth and in pain
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Those with diabetes are more likely to develop periodontitis because having high blood sugar can affect your saliva, allowing harmful bacteria to grow in the mouth. "Diabetes causes blood vessel changes," explain experts from Cedars Sinai, via the medical center's site. "The thickened blood vessels can reduce the flow of nutrients and removal of wastes from body tissues. This reduced blood flow can weaken the gums and bone. This puts them at greater risk for infection," they add.

Conversely, having gum disease can also cause your blood sugar levels to rise, sometimes exacerbating other symptoms of diabetes. For this reason, those with poorly controlled blood sugar levels and gum disease may find themselves in a cycle of escalating symptoms.

Controlling your blood sugar levels should improve your gum problems.

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For diabetics with gum disease, there's some good news, says the toothpaste company, Colgate: "Controlling your blood sugar and practicing excellent oral hygiene will help your body fight bacterial infections in your mouth." They say that by managing your diabetes, you should be able to "exponentially decrease the symptoms of periodontal disease and get you back to smiling more confidently."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are several ways to bring your blood sugar levels down into the target range. For reference, the CDC says that before a meal, your blood sugar levels should be between 80 and 130 mg/dL, and two hours after the start of a meal, your levels should be less than 180 mg/dL. They advise becoming more physically active, following a diabetes meal plan, checking your blood sugar levels as advised by a doctor, and taking medication as instructed.

Treating gum disease may also help control blood sugar levels.

Man getting his teeth and gums checked out at the dentist
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There is also evidence to suggest that by simply treating your gum disease and practicing good oral health, you can also improve your blood sugar levels and symptoms of diabetes. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends brushing twice a day with a soft brush, cleaning between your teeth with floss, using an antimicrobial mouthwash, and cleaning dentures every day if you wear them. Additionally, you should see your dentist for regular checkups, and let them know immediately if you experience symptoms of gum disease, including red, swollen, or bleeding gums.

Speak with your doctor and dentist for more information on how to break the cycle of symptoms.

RELATED: If You See This on Your Feet, You May Have Diabetes, Doctors Say.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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