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 mouth, teeth, and oral health. That’s why diseases in the digestive tract and other stomach problems can lead to poor oral health, but also how poor oral health can lead to disease. Some signs and symptoms that occur in the mouth point to an exact stomach condition; others tell doctors that an inflammatory disease is present but not exactly what that disease is. More than three million adults in the US have a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The two main forms of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC), which both impact the mouth. This 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
- surgical procedures
Oral and overall health are connected. The mouth can often show symptoms of a disease before it is diagnosed. Small, white tags called “mucosal tags” or “epithelial tags” are one oral sign of systemic disease. Although they are not connected to one specific disease or diagnosis, they arise from the internal inflammation of the digestive tract. Up to 50% of people with Crohn’s will develop mouth ulcers at some point as a result of their condition, most commonly- minor aphthous ulcers that typically resemble canker sores.
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 IBD. A dentist can be the first to diagnose Crohn’s disease by signs in the mouth if the patient has not seen a physician. The parts of the mouth most affected by oral Crohn’s disease include the lips, inside of the cheeks, tissue behind the molars, gums, and even the tissues in the ears. Because this stomach condition can cause oral lesions, it’s another important reason to visit your dentist regularly. Signs and symptoms of the disease in the mouth are discovered first about 7% of the time.
How does this translate to dental care? One study of dental patients with Crohn’s disease found that they have significantly more dental procedures than an individual without an IBD. Adults with Crohn’s disease were 65% more likely to have removable dentures, 52% more likely to have fillings in front teeth, and 46% more likely to have tooth-saving procedures done.
Ulcerative Colitis and The Health of Your Mouth
There are many similarities in the mouth when we look at patients with Crohn’s disease and those with UC. But UC differs in a few ways. It’s the most common IBD. Additionally, it has an oral “marker” in the mouth that signals to dentists and doctors what the patient may have. There is a very strong connection between an oral condition called Pyostomatitis Vegetans (PV) and UC.
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 lacerations. Unlike the majority of the oral wounds, PV is a specific marker pointing to UC. Click here to see what PV looks like in the mouth.
Oral Health is Tied to Overall Health
Your oral health offer clues about your overall health and you can protect yourself by learning more about their connection. Keeping up with dental appointments helps you maintain your oral health and can alert your dentist to other issues and diseases that may be going on in the body. It’s even more important to keep up with your oral health when you have a disease like IBD that compromises the health of your mouth and body. Tell your dentist about all the medications you’re taking and 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.
“There continues to be mounting evidence of the mouth body connection. By taking better care of our oral health, we can potentially improve our overall health in countless ways.” – Dr. Brad Guyton, DDS
Some kinds of mouthwash and rinses offer only temporary relief for mouth sores, so speak with your dentist and physician at the first sign of change 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. Click here to find a dentist in your area today.
Want to learn more about the connection between our mouth and body? Check out: