How Autoimmune Diseases Can Affect Your Oral Health

DF2Prevention & Wellness

With some 23.5 million Americans living with an autoimmune disease, the associated inflammation they cause is affecting our oral health.

When the body senses danger from a virus or infection, the immune system kicks into gear and attacks it. This is called an immune response. Sometimes, healthy cells and tissues get caught up in this response, resulting in autoimmune disease. Inflammation – or the inflammatory response – is a common thread among autoimmune diseases.

Among the most common autoimmune diseases are Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), Type 1 Diabetes, Crohn’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Lupus. Once diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, you’ll need to be monitored by a specialist.

But you also may experience seemingly unrelated issues in fact could be caused by your autoimmune disease. Among these are dental issues are impacting your teeth, gums, and jaw.

Jaw pain

Rheumatoid Arthritis is a chronic health condition in which your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks your joints and other tissues, causing pain, swelling, and fatigue. While the fingers and wrists are the most commonly affected joints, the temporomandibular joint which connects your jawbone to your skull can also be affected. When inflammation forms around the TMJ tendons, it can make opening and closing your mouth painful. This is commonly referred to as TMJ pain.

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can cause inflammation and pain in any part of the body, including the mouth. Much like Rheumatoid Arthritis, it can also cause TMJ pain.

The fix for jaw pain

While TMJ pain can be a side effect in individuals with RA and Lupus, it is a very common issue in those without an autoimmune disease as well. Use of a bite plate or customized mouth guard reduces the impact of grinding and clenching teeth. Typically worn at night, it reduces the stress on your jaw, protects your teeth from damage and drastically reduce the pressure on your jaw.

Oral irritations and lesions

Crohn’s Disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation of the digestive tract, potentially causing abdominal pain, digestive issues, fatigue and weight loss.

Oral manifestations of Crohn’s disease, including mouth ulcers and swollen lips, are not uncommon, and can be a clue to undiagnosed disease. Some patients with Crohn’s have increased incidence of tooth decay and cavities.

Minimizing oral irritation

To minimize flares, individuals with Crohn’s disease should adhere to a diet that minimizes spicy, sugary and high fat foods. Oral lesions can typically be treated with over-the-counter topical medications.

Dry mouth

Dry mouth is a common condition that can be the result of aging. It is also a common side effect of many medications, including some used to treat Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Diabetes. In individuals with Diabetes (both Type 1 and Type 2), dry mouth is one of the most common symptoms used to diagnose the disease.

Dry mouth also greatly increases the incidence of tooth decay. Saliva naturally contains chemicals that protect and help rebuild teeth and keep the oral tissues healthy. Additionally, saliva acts to flush away plaque and debris on the teeth. When the mouth is dry, food and plaque stick to the teeth more (much like food that dries out on a plate and gets stuck). The lack of neutralizing effects from saliva will lead to an acidic environment. The combination of these factors creates an ideal situation for tooth decay to develop.

Help for dry mouth

Not surprisingly, those with dry mouth are advised to drink lots of water. In addition, lubricating rinses can help relieve discomfort from oral symptoms. Over the counter fluoride rinses and application of prescription strength fluoride at our office are effective ways to prevent tooth decay. Avoiding alcohol and caffeine, and consuming high-fiber fruits and vegetables, can also improve dry mouth symptoms.

Healthy advice

It’s especially important to maintain your dental health when you have an autoimmune disease. Here’s why:

  • Regular dental cleanings prevent plaque buildup on your teeth that can cause cavities and gum disease.
  • Dental exams alert us to any oral health issues like mouth lesions or ulcers.
  • If you have dry mouth or ulcers, we can offer prescription mouthwashes to relieve pain or discomfort.
  • If you are having jaw pain, we can assess your bite to identify whether a mouthguard would help your symptoms.

Questions or concerns? We’re happy to help.

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