Approximately 50 million Americans, 20 percent of the population, suffer from autoimmune diseases. Women are more likely than men to be affected. In fact, some estimates say that 75 percent of those affected–some 30 million people–are women.
Two of the most common immune disorders that can affect oral heath are: Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lupus.
Here is a breakdown of each condition and how both can affect the health of your mouth.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that causes inflammation of the joints. If your jaw joint (the temporomandibular joint) is affected, you may have discomfort and problems with chewing. If rheumatoid arthritis affects your hands, you may have problems with brushing and flossing.
Some people with rheumatoid arthritis also have Sjögren’s syndrome. This is a disease of the salivary and tear glands. It causes dryness of the mouth and eyes. It can cause problems with chewing and lead to heavy plaque deposits on the teeth. Plaque increases the risks of tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
Some of the medicines used to treat rheumatoid arthritis can irritate the mouth and/or cause dry mouth. This is why good oral hygiene is important. It’s also important to note that, RA patients tend to take high doses of aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These drugs can increase and prolong bleeding after dental procedures. Some medicines prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis can weaken the immune system or have oral side effects, including:
- D-penicillamine (Cuprimine)
- Certain other drugs
Lupus is an autoimmune disease that affects multiple organs. It may also affect the mouth. More than half of lupus patients get sores on the lips, palate and inside the cheeks. Many also have soreness or burning of the mouth and experience a lack of saliva (dry mouth or xerostomia). People with lupus often have salivary gland disease. This often causes dry mouth which increases the risk of tooth decay and yeast/fungal infections.
Because lupus affects the entire body, it requires special attention by your dentist. People with lupus may have low platelet counts, which can increase the risk of bleeding.
Like RA, some medicines for lupus also can suppress your immune system. You may need antibiotics before and/or after dental treatment. The reason is that you may not have enough blood cells (neutrophils) to help fight infections.
ALWAYS talk to us about all the medicines you take and any conditions you have. This should include over-the-counter vitamins and herbal supplements.
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