We don’t often think of our mouth as part of our digestive tract —but it is! How well we digest our food impacts our smiles, too. That’s why diseases in the digestive tract and other stomach problems can worsen your oral health. Some symptoms that occur in the mouth point to an exact stomach condition. Other symptoms tell doctors that an inflammatory disease is present, but not exactly what that disease is. Over three million adults in the US have a form of inflammatory bowel disease. The two main forms of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, which both impact the mouth. That makes dentist visits that much more important for individuals with these conditions.
Women are slightly more prone to IBD. While the condition can occur at any age, diagnosis often occurs after the age of 15. People with these diseases report:
- poorer quality of life
- long periods of illness,
- and surgical procedures.
Because our oral and overall health are so interconnected, our gut health impacts our mouth. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis cause similar changes in the mouth. Small, white tags called “mucosal tags” or “epithelial tags” are one oral symptom. They are not connected with one specific disease or diagnosis, and arise from the internal inflammation of the digestive tract.
When surveyed against a control group, one study of people with an inflammatory bowel disease found that they self-reported “significantly more mouth-related problems.” They said they experienced more cavities and more bleeding of the gums than the control group.
Crohn’s Disease and The Health of Your Mouth
Crohn’s disease is the second most common inflammatory bowel disease. A dentist can be the first to diagnose Crohn’s disease by signs in the mouth if the patient has not seen a physician. Because this stomach condition can cause oral lesions, it’s another important reason to visit your dentist regularly. Symptoms in the mouth are discovered first about seven percent of the time.
In one study, researchers found that between 20 and 50 percent of patients with Crohn’s disease had “oral lesions,” or mouth sores. Age, ethnicity, and genetic background also play a role in which individuals develop oral signs.
A patient can still experience mouth sores due to oral Crohn’s disease when they are not experiencing a flare up in their digestive system.
The parts of the mouth most affected by oral Crohn’s disease include the:
- inside of the cheek,
- tissue behind the molars,
- and even the tissues in our ears.
So, how does this affect your dental care routine? One study of dental patients with Crohn’s disease saw that they have significantly more dental procedures than an individual without an IBD.
Adults with Crohn’s disease were:
- 65 percent more likely to have removable dentures,
- 52 percent more likely to have fillings in front teeth,
- and 46 percent more likely to have tooth-saving procedures done.
Ulcerative Colitis and The Health of Your Mouth
Ulcerative colitis is the most common inflammatory bowel disease. There are many similarities in the mouth when we look at patients with Crohn’s disease and patients with ulcerative colitis. But ulcerative colitis differs in a few ways. It has an oral “marker” in the mouth that signals to dentists and doctors what the patients may have. There is a very strong connection between an oral condition called “pyostomatitis vegetans” (PV) and Ulcerative colitis.
To put it simply, PV is when the tissue inside the mouth, the skin on the lips, or the corners of the mouth become reddened, swollen and have lesions. Unlike the majority of oral wounds, PV is a specific marker pointing to ulcerative colitis. Click here to see what PV looks like in the mouth.
Dental patients with ulcerative colitis also have a significantly higher number of dental procedures than an individual without an IBD.
What to Do?
Keeping up with dental appointments helps us maintain good oral health. It’s even more important when we have a disease like IBD that compromises the health of our mouth and our bodies. Tell your dentist about all the medications you’re taking. Include any diagnoses from your physician. Your dentist may want to see you more often to keep an eye out for changes in your oral health.
While some kinds of mouthwash and rinses offer relief for mouth sores, they only provide temporary comfort. Speak with your doctor and physician at the first sign of changes in your mouth. It’s necessary to treat the underlying condition that is causing your oral symptoms, and not just keep those symptoms at bay.
It’s important to keep in mind that reactions to medications, infections and other unrelated diseases could also be causing these symptoms. Make an appointment with your dentist and your doctor if you’re experiencing any redness, swelling, mouth lesions or sores. A nutrient deficiency can also cause similar symptoms in the mouth.
Smoking and tobacco consumption will make all of these conditions and their impact on the mouth worse.
Interested in learning about the health of your mouth? Click here.