Our saliva plays an essential role in protecting our oral health. It helps keep our oral tissues moist while also maintaining a pH level that kills hostile bacteria. In addition to fighting the bacteria responsible for decay, it also helps wash away food debris and biofilms like plaque and tartar. Conditions that cause dry mouth can put our oral health at serious risk. One such condition is known as Sjögren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that attacks moisture-producing glands such as the salivary and tear glands.
Sjögren’s Syndrome And How It Can Affect Your Oral Health
Sjögren’s syndrome has numerous symptoms; dry mouth and dry eyes are just the most common. It can also produce other systemic symptoms such as joint pain and fatigue. It’s also known to appear alongside lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Sjögren’s syndrome is particularly common in menopause age women.
The causes behind this condition aren’t well understood. What is suspected is that the immune system of these patients responds abnormally. The condition is known to be congenital in nature but can also result from environmental factors. In many cases, the condition will remain dormant until some bacterial or viral infection triggers it. Treatments are available for this condition, but no cure presently exists.
Those most at risk of developing Sjögren’s syndrome include:
- Those 40 and older, though children have also been affected
- Women of menopause age develop Sjögren’s syndrome at 10x the rate of men
- Those presently experiencing another autoimmune disorder
The high rate of occurrence in women nearing and after menopause suggests that estrogen levels play a role in this condition. Other studies are focusing on the involvement of the X chromosome in the development of Sjögren’s syndrome.
Sjögren’s syndrome patient’s immune system is engaged in attacking moisture-producing glands. These include those in the mouth and eyes, among others. Common symptoms include:
- Dry Eyes – Reduced tear production can result in eyes that are dry, burn, or itch. Excessive blinking in response to a grainy feeling in the eyes may result.
- Dry Mouth – Speaking, swallowing, and tasting food may become difficult due to a lack of saliva. You may wake in the night with your mouth dry and need more water to swallow food.
- Vaginal Dryness – Sjögren’s syndrome can also attack the glands that moisturize the vagina.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome – This condition can be caused by constipation resulting from a lack of moisture delivered to the bowels and colon.
- Swollen Glands – These can appear in front of the ears, behind the jaw, and in the eyes
- Skin rashes
- Chronic Dry Cough
- Numb or tingling toes and fingers
- Extended periods of fatigue
Speak To Your Dentist And Primary Health Provider For Help
While Sjögren’s syndrome can’t be cured, getting treatment is essential. The consequences of dryness can be uncomfortable and long-lasting. The oral risks include halitosis and rapidly advancing decay without the protection of your saliva. Speak to your providers to begin identifying successful treatment options to help relieve your symptoms and protect your smile.