The Fono

Health & Social Services

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Oral Health and Diabetes

If you think your breath may be bad, there are signs that suggest you may be right. Gum disease, along with mouth and teeth problems, are common in people who have diabetes, which is high among our Pacific population in New Zealand.

Diabetes can weaken your mouth's germ fighting powers while high blood glucose levels can make gum disease worse. It may also cause damage to the blood vessels supplying your gums. If you have an infection from gum disease, this can make your diabetes harder to control.

It is important to remember gum disease can start at any age, but it is also preventable through brushing your teeth twice daily, flossing once every day, looking for early signs of it, and visiting your dentist at The Fono at least twice a year.

Gum disease starts from a build-up of plaque – a sticky film of saliva, food and germs. Plaque loves to settle in at the gum line and germs get busy making your gums red, tender, and likely to bleed. The goal of daily tooth brushing and flossing is to clean away plaque because if it is not removed, it hardens into tartar which builds up under the gum line.

If plaque and tartar are not cleaned away, even gentle brushing can cause your gums to bleed. This is called gingivitis and it is the first stage of gum disease.

You can prevent gingivitis with:

  • Daily good brushing and flossing habits
  • Getting your teeth professionally cleaned at least twice a year at your dentist

If you ignore gingivitis, gum disease gets worse and it can lead to the more severe form of it, periodontitis. If left untreated, it can lead to you losing your teeth. Because gum disease is often painless, you may not know you have a problem until you have some serious damage, so getting a regular check-up at The Fono is your best weapon, but you can also help gum disease by looking out for early warning signs.

Gum disease warning signs:

  • Bleeding gums when you brush or floss Red, swollen, or tender gums
  • Gums that have pulled away from your teeth. Part of the tooth's root may show, or your teeth may look longer
  • Pus between your teeth and gums (when you press on the gums)
  • Bad breath
  • Adult teeth that are loose or moving away from each other
  • Changes in the way your teeth fit when you bite
  • Changes in the fit of partial dentures or bridges

The three main steps to fight gum disease are brushing, flossing, and seeing your dentist regularly. Brush twice a day and floss at least once a day.


A toothbrush can only clean one or two teeth at a time. Allow about three minutes of brushing to clean all your teeth well.


Flossing cleans away plaque and bits of food from between your teeth and below the gum line. It gets to the places your brush can't reach. Floss once a day.

Visiting your dentist

When you visit the dentist, and you have diabetes, tell them. Also let them know about any problems with infections or trouble keeping your blood glucose levels under control.

The best time for dental work is when your blood glucose level is in a normal range so eat before you go to see your dentist. Do not book a visit when your diabetes medicine is peaking if it means food will be delayed. 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.

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 a meal plan using soft or liquid foods.

If your diabetes is in poor control wait to have dental surgery until it is better controlled and if your dental needs are urgent (pain or swelling), talk to your dentist and doctor.

The Fono can arrange a joint consultation with both a Fono Dentist and Doctor. A joint consultation means your Doctor and Dentist and coordinate your visit and talk to you about the best location for your treatment depending on your needs. This may be at The Fono or in a hospital or special clinic where you can be checked during and after surgery.

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