Get educated during June's Scleroderma Awareness Month

Scleroderma may not be talked about much outside of medical circles, but the disease is diagnosed in more people than muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis or multiple sclerosis and it can cause oral health complications.

Scleroderma is not really one disease. It is a symptom of multiple diseases that include the abnormal growth of connective tissue such as skin, cartilage and tendons. A mild case of scleroderma can exhibit nothing more than hard, tight skin. More severe cases involve damage to blood vessels and internal organs.

Scleroderma can also be the cause of oral health problems. The tightening of facial skin triggered by the disease can make your mouth opening smaller, making tooth care difficult. The illness also dries up the patient's mouth, which causes tooth decay. Furthermore, the damaged connective tissue in the mouth can lead to loose teeth.

According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/scleroderma/), there are several ways to avoid tooth and gum problems caused by scleroderma. Brushing and flossing your teeth regularly is a must. It is also important to drink a lot of water and avoid alcohol, even in mouthwashes. Visiting your dentist for regular checkups is necessary, especially if you feel any mouth soreness or pain. If you have a more severe case of scleroderma, you should consult a physical therapist about facial exercises to keep your mouth and skin flexible.

The Scleroderma Foundation is the leading sponsor of the awareness month. For more information on the foundation and its work, visit http://www.scleroderma.org.

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