Diabetes and Dental Care 

Effective management of patients with diabetes in dental practice requires a comprehensive understanding of their metabolic control and how it influences their response to dental treatment. Dental professionals play a crucial role in addressing the oral health needs of diabetic patients, particularly concerning periodontal conditions and tooth loss. So, what do dental professionals need to know about the intersection of diabetes and dental care? This guide aims to equip dental professionals with the knowledge to:  

  • Identify and manage oral health issues in patients with diabetes 
  • Understand the interaction between diabetes and dental care  
  • Examine how diabetes impacts periodontal disease 
  • Implement appropriate dental treatment considerations 

Recommended course: Diabetes: Dental Management and Links to Periodontal Disease, 2nd Edition 

Understanding diabetes mellitus 

Diabetes mellitus refers to a group of chronic metabolic disorders characterized by glucose intolerance and disruptions in carbohydrate and lipid metabolism. There are three main types: 

  • Type 1 diabetes: An autoimmune condition leading to the destruction of insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, usually diagnosed in childhood or young adulthood. 
  • Type 2 diabetes: Characterized by insulin resistance and a relative deficiency in insulin production, commonly associated with adulthood but increasingly seen in younger populations due to lifestyle factors. 
  • Gestational diabetes: Glucose intolerance is first identified during pregnancy and typically resolves after childbirth. 

Signs and symptoms of diabetes 

The classic signs of untreated type 1 diabetes include: 

  • Polyuria (frequent urination) 
  • Polydipsia (increased thirst) 
  • Polyphagia (increased appetite) 

Type 2 diabetes symptoms develop more gradually but can be similar. Patients with diabetes are also at risk for complications such as hyperglycemia, heart disease, neuropathy, and retinopathy. 

Association between diabetes and periodontal disease 

Periodontal disease is a common inflammatory condition that occurs more frequently and with greater severity in patients with diabetes. The bidirectional relationship between these two conditions means that poor glycemic control can exacerbate periodontal disease and impair glycemic control. 

  • Glycemic control: Maintaining an HbA1c level of 7% or lower reduces the risk of periodontal disease. 
  • Periodontal therapy: Treatments like scaling and root planing can help improve glycemic control, though results vary. 

Periodontal manifestations of diabetes 

Diabetic patients often exhibit specific periodontal issues: 

  • Attachment loss: Increased risk and severity in poorly controlled diabetes. 
  • Alveolar bone loss: Enhanced bone resorption due to compromised osteoblast function and increased osteoclast activity. 
  • Gingivitis: Inflammation without bone loss, but a precursor to more severe periodontal disease. 

Other oral manifestations associated with diabetes 

  • Xerostomia: Reduced salivary flow, leading to dry mouth, increased caries risk, and difficulty with dentures. 
  • Oral candidiasis: Fungal infections due to decreased salivary proteins that normally control fungal populations. 

Dental treatment considerations for patients with diabetes 

Dental treatment for diabetic patients must start with a thorough review of their medical history and current glycemic control. Coordination with the patient’s physician is crucial for managing extensive surgical procedures. 

  • Appointment timing: Early morning appointments are ideal to coincide with higher endogenous cortisol levels, which can help manage blood glucose levels better and minimize the risk of hypoglycemic episodes during treatment. 
  • Diet and medication: Ensure patients eat before appointments to avoid hypoglycemic episodes. Patients should also take their medications as prescribed. Educating patients about the importance of maintaining their usual eating and medication schedules can prevent adverse events. 
  • Periodontal health: Comprehensive periodontal examination and appropriate treatment plans are essential for maintaining oral health. Regular periodontal maintenance, scaling, and root planing are crucial for controlling periodontal disease in diabetic patients. Monitoring and managing periodontal health can significantly impact the overall management of diabetes. 
  • Restorative dentistry: Functional restorations that are easy to clean and maintain are critical. Use restorative materials and designs that facilitate good oral hygiene practices. Supragingival margins should be prioritized to make it easier for patients to clean their teeth effectively. 

Specific treatment considerations for diabetes and dental care 

  • Cleaning and bleeding management: Patients with diabetes often experience delayed healing and increased bleeding. Using gentle cleaning techniques and providing thorough post-treatment care instructions can help manage these issues. 
  • Root canal treatment: Diabetic patients may be at higher risk for infections. Ensuring strict aseptic techniques and prescribing prophylactic antibiotics can mitigate this risk. 
  • Extractions: Similar to root canal treatments, extractions require careful management to prevent infections. Coordinating with the patient’s physician and ensuring good glycemic control before the procedure can help improve outcomes. 

Additional considerations 

  • Communication with healthcare providers: Regular communication with the patient’s healthcare providers can help coordinate care, especially for complex cases that may require adjustments in diabetes management during dental procedures. 
  • Stress management: Dental professionals should be aware of the potential impact of stress on blood glucose levels and take steps to minimize patient anxiety during appointments. This can include using calming techniques, providing a comfortable environment, and scheduling shorter, less stressful appointments when possible. 
  • Patient education: Educating patients about the importance of oral hygiene, regular dental visits, and the impact of diabetes on oral health can empower them to take proactive steps in managing their condition. Providing educational materials and resources can be beneficial. 
  • Monitoring for complications: Be vigilant for signs of diabetes-related complications such as delayed healing, infections, and other oral manifestations. Early detection and management of these complications can prevent more serious issues. 

Adverse interactions between hypoglycemic medications and dental treatment medications 

Oral hypoglycemic medications can interact with dental treatment medications: 

  • NSAIDs: Can potentiate the hypoglycemic effect of insulin or oral hypoglycemic agents. 
  • Cephalexin: May increase the hypoglycemic effect of metformin by reducing its renal clearance. 

Emergency management of the dental patient with diabetes 

Hypoglycemia is the most common emergency in diabetic patients during dental treatment. Recognizing and promptly managing hypoglycemic episodes is crucial: 

  • Signs of hypoglycemia: Include mental confusion, tremors, sweating, and tachycardia. Immediate treatment involves administering a fast-acting carbohydrate or glucagon if the patient is unconscious. 
  • Preparation: Regularly check the contents of the dental emergency kit and conduct periodic mock emergency drills. 


Managing dental care for patients with diabetes requires a multidisciplinary approach, including thorough medical history reviews, understanding the interplay between periodontal disease, diabetes and dental care, and being prepared for emergencies. By adopting these strategies, dental professionals can significantly contribute to the overall health and well-being of their diabetic patients.