Anemia occurs when your body doesn't create a sufficient amount of red blood cells. Because these cells carry oxygen throughout your bloodstream, not enough of them keeps the body from getting the oxygen it needs. This can lead to a variety of symptoms, including lack of color of the gums, soreness in the tongue and other problems affecting your oral health just as much as your energy level.
How anemia affects oral tissue
Because anemia reduces the number of red blood cells present, one common symptom is paleness in the gums, which some have come to consider anemia gums. Instead of a normal, healthy pink, they begin to take on a faded or even whiter shade of their normal color. This paleness can also affect the tongue and the mucous membranes inside your mouth, as well as your palms and the linings of your eyes, as explained by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). These are important symptoms of anemia and should be evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible.
Other effects of anemia on the oral tissues include:
- Pain in the tongue.
- Redness of the tongue.
- A swollen tongue, or glossitis.
What it can lead to
No matter how it may feel, your dentist should evaluate any changes in the appearance of your tongue, gums and surrounding tissues in your mouth. These types of changes could indicate systemic problems or serious illness. Diseases that affect the bone marrow – leukemia, for instance – can cause symptoms that resemble anemia gums.
If you have persistent anemia, let your dentist know. He or she may prescribe special antimicrobial rinses to help prevent gum disease, or antibiotic drugs to reduce your risk of related infection. If you have undergone dental work or oral surgery, you might need treatment to prevent excessive bleeding as well. This can mean altering the types of treatments and tools your dentist uses during treatment. Patients with severe anemia might even require oxygen during treatment to compensate for anemia's hindrance on the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream.
Treatment for anemia
There are different types of anemia, but the end result is a lack of red blood cells, reducing the amount of oxygen that is carried to the body's tissues. Keep in mind that treatment can differ based on the type of anemia in question. For example, pernicious anemia is caused by a lack of vitamin B12, as described by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Therefore, treatment involves supplying this vital nutrient.
The most common form of anemia, iron deficiency anemia, occurs because the body does not process the iron that keeps you focused and resilient during the day. Treatment can include iron supplements, as well as changes in the diet to include iron-rich foods such as red meat and dark greens. Fanconi anemia, according to the NHLBI, is a genetic condition that increases the risk of oral cancer. Patients with this type of anemia must visit the dentist consistently for oral cancer screenings as well as regular dental care.
Anemia is often self-induced, and can therefore be prevented through a healthy, well-rounded diet. Iron is most readily found in meats, eggs and certain fruits and vegetables like prunes, kale and spinach. Consult with your doctor to see if supplementation is necessary, and in slow-release forms that don't upset your stomach. Vitamin B12 is similarly found in most meat products, as well as multivitamins.
If you notice paleness in your gums, speak to your dentist or doctor. Further examination might be necessary to determine a proper diagnosis and effective treatment.