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What Is Hyperparathyroidism?

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Your body needs calcium to build strong bones and teeth, but too much of it running rampant can cause problems for your oral and overall health. Hyperparathyroidism is the condition that results when the parathyroid glands responsible for regulating calcium in the blood can't maintain the balance.

The Parathyroid Glands

The parathyroid glands are a quartet of glands about the size of grains of rice located in your neck, according to Mayo Clinic. They produce a regulatory hormone also called parathyroid (PTH). If too much of this hormone is released, it causes the minerals usually needed for strong bones to break down and release calcium into the bloodstream.

This weakening of bones can lead to pain and fractures, and sometimes to osteoporosis. Calcium circulating in the blood can also exit through the kidneys, causing kidney stones and excessive urination.

According to the Journal of Dental and Allied Sciences, this endocrine (gland-related) disorder is two to three times more prevalent in women than in men. While women are more susceptible to weakened bones, men with parathyroid issues are more likely to be diagnosed after developing kidney stones, says Osteoporosis International.

Types of Hyperparathyroidism

Parathyroid problems are divided into three categories depending on the cause:

  • Primary. This form is caused by the direct complication of the glands, says Mayo Clinic, either through enlargement or a growth such as an adenoma (a benign glandular tumor).
  • Secondary. This form of hyperparathyroidism is caused by the parathyroid gland overproducing to compensate for another disease that causes a drop in calcium levels, such as kidney failure. The treatment involves managing the kidney disease or other condition and possible surgery to remove the parathyroid glands if calcium levels can not be brought back to a normal range.
  • Tertiary. This form of the condition often develops after a kidney transplant, writes Michigan Medicine. Parathyroid glands that have functioned abnormally for months or years sometimes fail to correct themselves when a healthy kidney is introduced, changing the disorder from secondary to tertiary.

Treatment for all three types often requires surgery to remove the parathyroid glands if calcium levels can not be brought back to a normal range.

Oral Health Issues

For most patients, the disorder is recognized during routine blood work or diagnosed during treatment for kidney disease, and oral symptoms of hyperparathyroidism are rare. Your mouth can show warning signs, however, and all three varieties can cause an oral growth called a "brown tumor." These mouth ulcers can be swollen and brown or red in color, and are so rare that most dentists will never see one. The Journal of International Oral Health notes that brown tumors serve as a good reminder to get all oral lesions thoroughly checked out by your dentist and doctor in case they point to an underlying condition.

Your oral health can also be endangered if any calcium problems are allowed to progress to the point of osteoporosis. Deterioration of the jawbone can cause loose teeth and painful or ill-fitting dentures. Since older women are at the greatest risk for this disease, it's important to visit your dentist regularly if you are female and have already gone through menopause.

If they are the first to spot a parathyroid problem, your dentist will refer you to a physician specializing in endocrine conditions. Frequent bone, dental and kidney exams can help detect hyperparathyroidism early on and lead to a swift and positive recovery.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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