Epilepsy is a neurological condition in which a person experiences chronic, unpredictable seizures. If you have a friend or someone in your family who has seizures, they may control their symptoms with anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs). What you may not realize, though, is that this condition and these medications sometimes come with oral effects. But managing epilepsy and oral health is possible once you understand the risks and how to address them.
What Is Epilepsy?
The Mayo Clinic describes epilepsy as a nervous system disorder that causes periods of abnormal activity in the brain. This can affect any process your brain controls, resulting in seizures or changes in behavior or awareness.
Epilepsy can run in families, and other causes include head trauma and brain tumors. In adults over age 35, stroke is a leading cause of epilepsy. In addition, diseases such as meningitis, AIDS and viral encephalitis can also trigger this disorder, as can injuries before birth or other developmental disorders. Despite these known causes, the University of Washington School of Dentistry reports that the exact cause of epilepsy is unknown in 75% of the people diagnosed with this condition.
While it can affect both males and females of all ages and ethnic backgrounds, epilepsy is seen in less than 1% of the population and occurs more often in men.
Common Epilepsy Symptoms
Signs of epilepsy vary, according to the Mayo Clinic; however, a person with epilepsy will most likely have the same type of symptoms with each episode. The following symptoms are usually seen with generalized seizures, which occur when the entire brain is affected:
- Temporary confusion, eye blinking or a staring spell
- Sudden collapse
- Abrupt, uncontrollable jerking or stiffening of the arms and legs
- Loss of consciousness
Oral Health Risks
Generalized seizures create a risk for injuries to your tongue and other areas of the mouth, as the University of Washington School of Dentistry explains. Seizures may also damage the temporomandibular joints or cause an individual to aspirate a tooth into the lungs.
Unfortunately, the drugs used to control this disorder can also produce side effects in the mouth. One side effect often associated with AEDs is gingival hyperplasia, an overgrowth of gum tissue. As an article published in the Journal of Indian Society of Periodontology states, phenytoin is an AED frequently used in children, and it may cause gingival hyperplasia in 50% of the patients who take it.
A study in the Journal of International Oral Health states that AEDs may also cause xerostomia, or dry mouth. Since saliva washes food debris and bacteria from your teeth, dry mouth can make you more susceptible to tooth decay, explains the American Dental Association.
Managing Epilepsy and Oral Health
Since dentures and removable partial prosthetics can break or create a choking hazard during seizures, fixed prosthetics may be a better option for people with epilepsy, according to the University of Washington School of Dentistry. To prevent trauma to the teeth overnight, a dentist may suggest wearing a mouth guard. If a patient develops severe gingival hyperplasia, they may need surgical treatment to remove the excess gum tissue.
A dentist will closely evaluate an epileptic patient for any signs of gingival hyperplasia or dry mouth, and they will share the following oral hygiene steps to help them prevent tooth decay and gum disease:
- Floss daily.
- Brush frequently throughout the day and at bedtime with fluoride toothpaste.
- Maintain a healthy diet and get adequate nutrition.
- Use mints or lozenges with xylitol to stimulate saliva production and prevent cavities.
A medical team made up of a doctor and dentist is there to help you or your loved one manage epilepsy. If you're worried about the effects of epilepsy on oral health, know that your dentist is always available to help you keep your smile bright and your teeth and gums healthy.