More than 24 million Americans (about 7% of the population) have some form of autoimmune condition, and the prevalence is rising, according to the National Institutes of Health. There are more than 80 different types of autoimmune conditions.
Autoimmune conditions affect your overall health, and they impact your dental health, too. Here’s what you need to know about your oral health if you have an autoimmune condition.
Your immune system helps your body stay healthy by fighting off invading microorganisms. But sometimes, the immune system starts attacking healthy cells and tissues. An autoimmune condition arises from this abnormal response to an otherwise healthy body part. Most autoimmune conditions cause inflammation, which produces redness, heat, pain and swelling.
There are many different autoimmune conditions, and the symptoms they cause can vary greatly depending on the body part or parts affected. Some autoimmune conditions involve only one type of tissue; others involve many different parts of the body. For example, vasculitis primarily affects the blood vessels. Lupus, on the other hand, can damage the skin, heart, lungs and more.
Researchers still don’t know what causes most autoimmune conditions. Some have theorized that a combination of factors, including environmental or chemical triggers, diet, infections or drugs, trigger changes that confuse the immune system.
Certain people may be more prone to developing autoimmune conditions due to genetics. Women get autoimmune conditions at a rate of about two to one compared to men. Some autoimmune conditions affect certain ethnic groups more than others. For instance, lupus has a significantly higher prevalence among African Americans compared with Americans of European descent.
Having an autoimmune condition can make you more susceptible to a number of oral health conditions, including:
Autoimmune conditions affect systemic health, and oral health is part of systemic health. Many autoimmune conditions, both common and rare, impact the health of your mouth.
Here are a few which are specifically known to adversely affect the oral cavity:
Because the condition attacks the salivary glands and leads to a dry mouth, Sjögren’s syndrome causes an increased risk for cavities, gum disease and ulcers.
Lichen planus is an autoimmune disorder affecting the skin and mucous membranes which line the inside of the mouth, nose, eyes and other sensitive areas of the bodies. Lichen planus can cause painful burning or stinging inside the mouth. White patches or lines may appear on the inner cheeks, and eating and drinking can become uncomfortable.
These two disorders cause similar problems in the mouth. Most patients with pemphigus vulgaris develop lesions inside the mouth, and in many cases, the oral lesions are the first sign of the condition. Both pemphigus vulgaris and pemphigoid cause painful blisters, which can burst leaving large ulcers.
For those with celiac disease, eating gluten (a prominent ingredient in the flour typically used to make breads, pasta, cakes and cookies) can cause an inflammatory response.
Celiac disease affects the formation of tooth enamel, and problems can include tooth discoloration — white, yellow, or brown spots on the teeth — poor enamel formation, pitting or banding of teeth and mottled or translucent-looking teeth.
Those with celiac disease typically suffer from dry mouth and ulcers.
Celiac disease can also affect the body’s ability to absorb nutrients and heal, which may result in longer than normal healing times from dental surgeries or oral injuries and a worsening of gum disease.
Diabetes affects about 37.3 million Americans. If left untreated, it can have disastrous effects on the health of your mouth. If you have diabetes, you are more prone to have dry mouth and gum disease that does not respond well to treatment.
Gum disease is the most common and serious oral health problem linked to diabetes: Uncontrolled blood sugar makes it more difficult to control gum disease, and uncontrolled gum disease causes spikes in blood sugar. If you have diabetes, you may experience more mouth infections, as well as burning mouth syndrome.
If you’re living with an autoimmune condition, your dentist is a crucial part of your medical care team. Maintain a strong dental routine at home, stay hydrated to combat dry mouth and follow your physician’s recommendations regarding diet and other lifestyle habits.
To find out more, learn these four steps to taking care of your oral health with an autoimmune condition.
Last updated December 1, 2022
The oral health information on this website is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.