Your immune system is your friend. It’s there to help your body fight off illnesses. At least that’s what it’s supposed to do. Sometimes, the immune system attacks the healthy cells and tissues in your body. This can lead to autoimmune diseases. Some of them can adversely affect your oral health. Here’s how.
How Autoimmune Diseases Can Affect Oral Health
Sjögren's syndrome is an inflammatory disease that can affect many different body parts. Still, it most often targets the glands that help your body make moisture. This affects your ability to produce saliva, causing dry mouth. The American College of Rheumatology states that between 400,000 and 3.1 million adults have Sjögren's syndrome in the U.S. Women are ten times more likely to get it than men. Sjögren's symptoms affecting the mouth include swallowing difficulty (especially when eating dry foods) and dry mouth, which can lead to dental decay, gingivitis (inflamed gums), and oral yeast infections (thrush). Other issues include loss of taste and speech problems.
Crohn's disease is primarily known as a disease that affects the intestines, but 8 to 29% of people with Crohn's, have it in their mouth. In fact, the mouth may be the first place this disease appears. Symptoms include mouth ulcers, swelling of the gums, and lips. These can lead to difficulty with eating.
Systemic lupus erythematosus also affects the mouth. It damages body parts, including skin, joints, and kidneys. According to the Office On Women's Health, it mostly develops in young women but can happen to anyone, at any age. It causes fever, weight loss, a butterfly rash across the face, and mouth ulcers.
Oral Lichen Planus, a web-like rash that is slightly raised and affects the skin and any lining, including oral and esophageal, may be connected to autoimmune issues. People complain of painful patches and peeling inside the mouth. Oral Lichen Planus only affects about 2% of the population and is most prevalent in women over 50.
According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, an estimated 50% of people with psoriasis, an autoimmune disease of the skin, have it on their face. It typically develops in people in their 20's or 30's. The scalp, elbows, and knees become affected with scaly white spots. In very rare cases, psoriasis can affect the mouth, including the lips, gums, tongue, and cheek. Redness, burning, bleeding, and difficulty chewing and swallowing food are all symptoms.
Another disease that affects your ability to swallow is Scleroderma. It causes abnormal growth of connective tissue in the skin and blood vessels and can lead to organ failure. The disease can cause the skin to become thick or cause facial skin to become extremely tight.
There are more than 80 different autoimmune diseases out there. Some of these diseases are difficult to diagnose. If you experience any of the symptoms described, talk to your doctor and dental professional. If you have an autoimmune disease, know that good oral hygiene and frequent dental visits are needed to minimize your oral problems.
This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.