Most notable symptoms of the this autoimmune disorder include extreme dry mouth and dry eyes caused by the disorder’s impact on the salivary glands, tear ducts and other mucus producing membranes of the body. Other symptoms of Sjgren’s syndrome include extreme fatigue and joint pain.
According to the Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation, this disorder affects 4 million Americans. Sjögren’s is usually diagnosed in patients over the age of 40. Extended periods of dry mouth, like those caused by Sjögren’s lead to a litany of oral health problems. Some of the issues created by Sjögren’s include increased risk of cavities, increased risk of periodontal disease and infections, tooth loss and the development of oral fungal infections.
Sjögren’s patients experience higher rates of cavities because the saliva that is critical for neutralizing enamel-damaging acid is no longer being produced. Saliva also plays an important role in the remineralization of teeth, fortifying them against decay-causing bacteria.
The risk of periodontal disease increases because disease-causing bacteria flourishes quickly in dry mouths. Periodontal disease begins as gingivitis, an irritation and inflammation of the gum tissue, and if left untreated, can develop into periodontitis. Periodontitis is a harder to treat gum condition that has the potential for painful abscesses and severe health complications.
“Saliva is also very important for digestion because it contains the enzymes that are necessary to start breaking down the food we eat,” Dr. Stefania Caracioni, D.D.S., L.V.I.F., said.
Saliva also plays a big role in eating.
“Saliva also helps us swallow our food, and the lack of saliva caused by Sjögren’s may cause people to choke or feel like the food they swallowed is stuck in their throat,” Caracioni said.
Other complications of the condition include changes in the ability to speak normally. As saliva serves as a lubricant for the tongue, lips and cheeks, when production is diminished the ability to move the mouth becomes diminished. Many Sjögren’s patients develop lisps or other impediments, which may make them self-conscious and cause them to avoid social situations.
Sjögren’s patients also develop painful ulcers along their cheek and tongue from the lack of lubricating saliva. These ulcers make speaking and eating painful and difficult.
Saliva is also necessary to wash away the dead cells of the mouth and tongue.
“Our mouths are constantly generating new cells, so the dead cells must be washed, rinsed or brushed away,” Caracioni said.
When saliva is absent from the mouth, and dead cells are not rinsed away, the patient may experience extremely bad breath. Bad breath may also cause Sjorgren’s sufferers to avoid social interaction or relationships. Lack of saliva from Sjögren’s syndrome also causes wear and tear on dental restorations, like fillings, crowns and bridges. Many times patients with Sjögren’s have to have replacement fillings and repeated restoration work, which means additional expenses.
There is no cure for Sjögren’s syndrome. Treatment for the symptoms of the disorder involves staying hydrated, using sugar-free gum or small candies to keep the mouth lubricated and the use of prescription salivary stimulants.
Patients who are experiencing extreme dry mouth conditions should report their symptoms to their dentist. The dentist will examine the patient and review their health history for other telltale symptoms of the condition like dry eyes, joint pain and feeling tired all the time despite getting enough sleep each night.
Sjögren’s syndrome is frequent in patients with other autoimmune disorders, like rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and lupus. Patients with these conditions should mention their autoimmune disorder to their dentist after diagnosis, in order for their dentist to be aware of their health condition, and to look out for signs of Sjögren’s.
Dentistry Today, “Sjögren’s Syndrome Is About Much More Than A Dry Mouth”, 3 April 2017
Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation, “What is Sjögren’s?” 2017