Oral Health and Genetic Risk Factors

Sjögren's Syndrome: Oral Symptoms And How They Can Be Treated

Sjögren's syndrome can be a debilitating and damaging chronic disease to live with, and many patients have to undergo a range of treatments to take care of various organs and body parts affected by the disease, so it's no surprise that dental care is often neglected. However, the symptoms of Sjögren's syndrome can cause a range of oral and dental disorders, so if you suffer from this relatively obscure auto-immune disorder, it's important to work closely with your dentist to mitigate the damage to your mouth that Sjögren's syndrome can cause.

What is Sjögren's syndrome, and how can it affect my dental health?

Sjögren's syndrome is a chronic auto-immune disorder that causes the body's immune system to attack healthy tissues, specifically the body's moisture-producing glands such as the tear ducts and salivary glands. The salivary glands of a Sjögren's sufferer frequently becomes inflamed and damaged, to the point where they are unable to produce enough saliva to keep the mouth properly lubricated.

This lack of sufficient saliva results in a dry mouth, which can be uncomfortable or even painful -- however, the lack of saliva also creates a gap in the mouth's natural defences against infection, as healthy saliva contains a range of enzymes and white blood cells designed to fight oral bacteria. As such, Sjögren's sufferers are at a significantly increased risk of developing various mouth disorders.

How can Sjögren's syndrome be treated?

There is no definite cure for Sjögren's syndrome, but there are a range of treatments available to mitigate its effects. Working closely with your dentist will make treating your dry mouth much easier, and may offer one or more of the following treatments:

  • Regular checkups - Sjögren's syndrome sufferers will generally benefit from more frequent dental inspections than non-sufferers, although this will depend upon your individual symptoms and requirements. Your dentist may also take the opportunity to scale and plane your teeth and gums, to remove hardened deposits of tartar and calculus.
  • Mouth rinses - Rinsing your mouth regularly throughout the day is a good way to keep the lining of your mouth lubricated, and soothe any pain you are experiencing. Your dentist may provide you with special medicated mouthwashes, which can also help to fight off infection.
  • Saliva substitutes - These substances are designed to mimic the consistency and beneficial effects of regular salivary flow, and are administered as sprays, lozenges or gels. They can greatly reduce discomfort, and make activities such as eating and speaking much easier. However, they do not have the anti-bacterial properties of natural saliva, so maintaining excellent dental health is still important.
  • Medications - Your dentist may prescribe you with medications that stimulate increased saliva production, such as pilocarpine, or medications designed to suppress the rogue white blood cells causing the damage to your glands. However, these medications can have nasty side effects in a small proportion of people. In addition, they should not be taken by pregnant women, or people suffering from certain disorders such as asthma, so make sure to consult with your family dentist thoroughly before starting a course of medication.