Believe it or not, tooth decay, mouth sores and oral fungal infections are among the issues people with lupus may face. Diseases associated with lupus can cause these oral symptoms, and the side-effects of lupus medications can appear in the oral cavity as well. Although the disease does not directly target teeth, lupus and teeth problems frequently occur together.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, lupus is known medically as systemic lupus erythematosus, an autoimmune disease that results in chronic inflammation. African American and Asian women are most at risk of developing the condition. The wide range of lupus symptoms can make the disease difficult to diagnose, but a clear sign is a particular type of mouth ulcer.
Paul D. Freedman, DDS, of the Hospital for Special Surgery explains that people with lupus can develop red ulcers on the lower lip, inner cheeks and the roof of the mouth. These ulcers are surrounded by a white halo with similarly colored lines radiating out, and they may or may not cause irritation. Those experiencing an active period of the disease can develop ulcers quite easily.
Dr. Freedman also refers to Sjogren's Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that targets the salivary and lacrimal glands – which produce saliva and tears, respectively. Sjogren's Syndrome affects 20 to 30 percent of people with lupus, but only 1 to 2 percent of the general population. Nonetheless, a major symptom of this condition is the (painless) enlargement of the salivary glands, usually on both sides of the head.
Sjogren's Syndrome primarily causes the salivary glands reduce their output of saliva, and the sufferer experiences dry mouth as a result. Saliva helps regulate the levels of acid in the oral cavity, and without it protecting the teeth, cavities can quickly form. The mouth contains 500 types of bacteria, as stated by Lupus Foundation of America (LFA), and 11 of these cause periodontal disease. Without saliva keeping your mouth clean of this bacteria, teeth are more susceptible to decay.
Dr. Freedman also mentions that saliva also has antifungal properties. Therefore, people with Sjogren's Syndrome can develop sores at the corners of their mouths caused by fungal infections that saliva isn't there to prevent.
A range of medications treat the symptoms of lupus, but some of them may actually further the connection between lupus and teeth. According to the LFA, there are over 400 medications that can cause mouth dryness, and many of them are focused on lupus. The S.L.E. Lupus Foundation says that corticosteroids, which are often prescribed for lupus, can cause mouth dryness. Also, Dr. Freedman suggests mouth ulcers that are white, red or both may be caused by lupus medications.
If you experience lupus, pay more attention to oral health to reduce your risk of dental decay. Consider rinsing after big meals with a fluoride rinse such as Colgate® Phos-Flur™ to help counteract the effects of a dry mouth. Although problems with lupus and teeth can be serious, treatment is available.