Q: Because of the candy and juice we use to treat my son’s blood sugar lows — including sometimes at night, after he’s brushed — I worry about what effect diabetes care could have on his teeth. Are there extra steps we should be taking to prevent cavities?

A: When a child has type 1 diabetes, the most important first step to good oral hygiene is helping the child develop good diabetes management habits. Over the long term, uncontrolled or poorly controlled diabetes can result in tooth loss and other dental problems. Working with your child to keep his blood sugars within range as much as possible can help protect his oral health and, of course, overall health.

Like all children and adults, kids with diabetes are recommended to have regular dental visits, depending on the schedule recommended by their dentist. Has your son had a dentist visit since his diagnosis? At this check up, let your dentist know about your son’s diabetes. He or she will likely want to know more about how your child is adjusting and how blood sugar management is going. This information helps the dentist to assess risk for any potential issues and provide more individualized care.

A child’s first dental appointment following diagnosis is also a great time for parents to ask their questions about oral care and cavity prevention, such as the question you ask, which very commonly comes up. Unless there are other oral health issues present, when a child has diabetes, the recommendation for preventing cavities is very straightforward: take exquisite care of your child’s teeth. This means brushing at least twice a day for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste, flossing daily, and eating a healthy diet.

If your child is younger, be prepared to take on a very direct role in making sure frequent flossing and brushing happens. However, if your child is older or in his teens, adult supervision may still be needed to make sure these kinds of good oral health habits become ingrained. The major benefit of making sure he is brushing and flossing on a regular basis? Besides healthier teeth and gums, when you do need to occasionally give your child some juice in the middle of the night to treat a low, it can simply be taken in stride.

 –Mary J. Hayes, D.D.S., M.S., is a pediatric dentist in Chicago and a spokesperson for the American Dental Association.



How Other Parents Deal
“When our 7-year-old son needed to have a tooth extracted last year, our dentist was great about taking time to make sure we checked his blood sugar right before the procedure and then again about halfway through. It helped put my mind at ease that my dentist was just as concerned as I was about my son making it through the procedure with stable sugars.”
–Angela L., Albany, N.Y., mom of 7-year-old Collin


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Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.