Detecting diabetes: Signals from your mouth


Called the “silent killer” because of its easy-to-miss symptoms, diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. However, more than 7 million Americans aren’t aware they have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Diabetes mellitus is a group of diseases that affect how your body uses blood sugar (glucose). Normal blood sugar levels are less than 100 mg/dL after not eating (fasting) for eight hours and less than 140 mg/dL two hours after eating. If you don’t control blood sugar levels, you can experience diabetes symptoms, such as increased thirst, extreme hunger, unexplained weight loss, frequent urination, slow healing sores, fatigue, irritability or blurred vision.

Early diagnosis is extremely important, because treatment can help minimize serious complications. Long-term effects include damage to the heart, nerves, kidneys, eyes and feet. Diabetes can also create complications in the mouth. You should pay close attention to your oral health and watch for symptoms.



Be aware of symptoms of diabetes

You may notice symptoms in your mouth, including:

• Problems tasting food

• White patches in the mouth (that can also be an early sign of oral cancer)

• Painful burning or tingling sensation in the mouth (known as burning mouth syndrome)

These signals should be reported to your dentist during your office visit, for examining whether they are complications from diabetes.

Diabetes facts

More than 34 million people in the U.S. have some form of diabetes, a disease caused by high blood sugar, according to the CDC. Medical costs for people with diabetes are twice as high as for people who don’t have diabetes.

How diabetes affects your oral health

If your blood sugar level is high, it can raise the risk of these oral complications:

Cavities may be caused by high blood sugar in your saliva, which feeds the bacteria that cause tooth decay.

Dry mouth is one of the most frequent oral health issues. Decreased saliva causes dryness in the mouth and may lead to cavities. The lack of moisture in the mouth can also make saliva thick and stringy, which can cause difficulty swallowing.

Oral lesions and infections can occur. The most common is thrush — a yeast infection that produces sore white or red patches.

Gum disease can lead to redness, bleeding and swelling in the gums, mouth pain, loose teeth, persistent bad breath or difficulty chewing. It can be more frequent and often more severe among diabetics, who have greater difficulty controlling blood sugar levels. This is likely because of inflammation caused by bacteria in infected gums.

Preventive exams for early detection

Regular oral exams can help detect early signs of diabetes. As a Delta Dental enrollee, you may have access to SmileWay Wellness Benefits, which provide for additional cleanings and gum treatments that help treat oral issues associated with the disease. Check your plan to see if this option is available.

Although there’s no cure for diabetes, it can be properly managed. Early detection is key, so tell your dentist if you’re experiencing any symptoms of diabetes. Let your dentist know if you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, if your blood sugar is off and what medications you are taking.