What Is Hyperparathyroidism?


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.

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.

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As we get older, dental care for adults is crucial. Here are a few of the conditions to be aware of:

Gum disease – if your home care routine of brushing and flossing has slipped and you have skipped your regular dental cleanings, bacterial plaque and tartar can build up on your teeth. The plaque and tartar, if left untreated, may eventually cause irreparable damage to your jawbone and support structures, and could lead to tooth loss.

Oral cancer – according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, men over the age of 40 have the greatest risk for oral cancer. About approximately 43,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer of the mouth, tongue or throat area, and the ACS estimates that about 7,000 people will die from these cancers. The use of tobacco products and alcohol increases the risk of oral cancer. Most oral cancers are first diagnosed by the dentist during a routine checkup.

Dental fillings break down – fillings have a life expectancy of eight to 10 years. However, they can last 20 years or longer. When the fillings in your mouth start to break down, food and bacteria can get underneath them and can cause decay deep in the tooth.