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The Importance of Oral Hygiene for Diabetics

Brush and Floss

The three main steps in fighting gum disease are brushing, flossing, and seeing your dentist regularly. Brush at least twice a day and floss at least once a day. Ask your dentist or hygienist to show you the correct way to brush and floss. Here are some tips.

  • Brushing. A toothbrush can only clean one or two teeth at a time. Allow about 3 minutes of brushing to clean all your teeth well. Use a brush with soft bristles and rounded ends. Soft bristles are less likely to hurt your gums. Angle the brush against the gum line, where teeth and gums meet. Move the brush back and forth with short strokes. Use a gentle, scrubbing motion. Brush the outside surfaces of the teeth. Do the same for the backs of the teeth and chewing surfaces. Brush the rough surface of your tongue to remove germs and freshen your breath. Remember to brush your gums too. Get a new toothbrush when the bristles are worn or bent, about every 3-4 months.

  • Flossing. Few people really enjoy flossing. But if you don't floss, you're only doing half the job of cleaning your teeth and gums. Flossing cleans away plaque and bits of food from between your teeth and below the gum line. It gets places your brush can't reach. Floss once a day. Break off 18 inches of floss and wind most of it around one of your middle fingers. Wind the rest around the same finger of the other hand. Hold the floss tightly between your thumbs and index fingers. Leave about an inch between them.

    Use a gentle sawing motion to get the floss between your teeth. Never snap the floss into the gums. When you get the floss to the gum line, curve it into a C-shape against one tooth. Scrape up and down on the sides of each tooth to remove plaque. As floss gets worn and dirty, move to a clean section and continue. Don't forget the backsides of your rear teeth.

    When you're done brushing and flossing, rinse your mouth with water. If you have arthritis in your hands, trouble moving your fingers, or if you have bridgework in your mouth, a floss holder might help. Ask your dentist about tools to make flossing easier for you.

  • When you schedule your visit to the dentist, plan to:
    • Tell your dentist you have diabetes. Also, share any problems with infections or trouble keeping your blood sugar levels under control.

    • Eat before you go to see your dentist. The best time for dental work is when your blood sugar level is in a normal range and your diabetes medication action is low. If you take insulin, a morning visit after a normal breakfast is best.

    • Take your usual medicines before your dentist visit, unless your dentist or doctor tells you to change your dose for dental surgery. Your dentist should consult with your doctor to decide about adjustments in your diabetes medicines, or to decide if an antibiotic is needed before surgery to prevent infection.

    • Stick to your normal meal plan after dental work. If you can't chew well, plan how to get the calories you need. You may need to use your sick-day meal plan that uses more soft or liquid foods.

    • Wait to have dental surgery until your blood sugar is in better shape, if your diabetes is in poor control. If your dental needs are urgent, (pain or swelling), talk to your dentist and doctor about having dental treatment in a hospital or special setting where you can be checked on during and after surgery.