When the immune system attacks the body’s organs, tissues and cells, a number of diseases and disorders can occur. These are often referred to as autoimmune disorders, and include, but are not limited to type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus erythematosus, scleroderma, inflammatory bowel disease and selective immunoglobulin deficiencies.
People with immune disorders are also at risk of oral health conditions. Common problems are dry mouth (xerostomia), burning mouth syndrome, the lips, tongue can become hard, gum overgrowth and a higher risk of cavities and periodontal disease.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, lupus is known medically as systemic lupus erythematosus, an autoimmune disease that results in chronic inflammation. African American and Asian women are most at risk of developing the condition. The wide range of lupus symptoms can make the disease difficult to diagnose, but a clear sign is a particular type of mouth ulcer.
Paul D. Freedman, DDS, of the Hospital for Special Surgery explains that people with lupus can develop red ulcers on the lower lip, inner cheeks and the roof of the mouth. These ulcers are surrounded by a white halo with similarly colored lines radiating out, and they may or may not cause irritation. Those experiencing an active period of the disease can develop ulcers quite easily.
Dr. Freedman also refers to Sjogren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that targets the salivary and lacrimal glands – which produce saliva and tears, respectively. Sjogren’s Syndrome affects 20 to 30 percent of people with lupus, but only 1 to 2 percent of the general population. Nonetheless, a major symptom of this condition is the (painless) enlargement of the salivary glands, usually on both sides of the head.
Sjogren’s Syndrome primarily causes the salivary glands reduce their output of saliva, and the sufferer experiences dry mouth as a result. Saliva helps regulate the levels of acid in the oral cavity, and without it protecting the teeth, cavities can quickly form. The mouth contains 500 types of bacteria, as stated by Lupus Foundation of America (LFA), and 11 of these cause periodontal disease. Without saliva keeping your mouth clean of this bacteria, teeth are more susceptible to decay.
Dr. Freedman also mentions that saliva also has antifungal properties. Therefore, people with Sjogren’s Syndrome can develop sores at the corners of their mouths caused by fungal infections that saliva isn’t there to prevent.