We are what we eat, and many Americans are taking note of WHAT we eat now more than ever. A particular issue that has prompted decades of research surrounds the issue of gluten.
Gluten is a protein found in many wheat, barley and rye products. Some people tolerate gluten fine while others have uncomfortable reactions. For some, an autoimmune disease, Celiac disease, is triggered when the body detects the presence of gluten. Celiac disease can cause bloating, anemia or joint pain. To date, the only treatment for the disease is to totally eliminate gluten from one’s diet.
Findings now show that the body’s inability to process gluten can sometimes show up in teeth. In children, it can be seen as discolorations (yellow, gray or super-white). It can also cause pitted and ridged tooth enamel and frequent canker sores; symptoms that arise even before Celiac disease is diagnosed. This is true for both children and adults.
Celiac disease is recognized as part of a family of autoimmune diseases that includes rheumatoid arthritis (RA), Type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis (MS). Symptoms of the disease can go beyond gastrointestinal distress, affecting the skin, bones and even the brain.
Because the initial stage of digestion begins in the mouth, it’s no surprise that what happens in the gut has a closely linked relationship. The gut, as the body’s main processing hub for breaking down and utilizing food, also houses 70 percent of the body’s immune system.
When someone with Celiac disease consumes gluten, the immune system reacts within the gut. The reaction to gluten damages the lining of the small intestine, the villi. Tiny as they are, these villi are essential to gut health and in supporting the absorption of nutrients.
It is estimated that one in every 133 people has Celiac disease, although it typically takes six or more years for a definitive diagnosis. Unfortunately, delayed diagnosis is felt to increase the potential to develop other autoimmune disorders.
Studies have shown that children’s teeth can be early indicators of the inability to process gluten as mentioned above. Celiac is being seen as a factor when enamel damage appears in childhood, which is a result of compromised mineral absorption that are part of tooth enamel formation.
Another study showed that recurrent canker sores and enamel defects in adults may be indicators of Celiac disease (although some tooth wear can be related to grinding or aging).
Coming to light mainstream is how significantly gum health (or periodontal health) is linked to a number of problems in the body. For example, you may have read our blog, “Psoriasis & Gum Disease – A Concerning Connection Revealed” (Nov. 12, 2019). This revealed findings on the psoriasis-oral bacteria connection.
According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, “people with psoriasis are significantly more likely to have gum disease—known as periodontitis—than people without psoriasis.” (https://www.psoriasis.org/advance/gum-disease-more-likely-in-people-with-psoriasis)
Seemingly unrelated, the connections between psoriasis and gum disease are actually close. For example, people with psoriatic arthritis have nearly the same rate of gum disease. By the same token, people with periodontitis (advanced gum disease) are nearly 1.5 times more likely to develop psoriasis than those who have healthy gums.
Previous studies along those lines have also found that periodontitis can put people at risk for developing psoriasis. In the past, researchers have noted that many patients develop psoriasis before periodontitis while cautioning that psoriasis could increase their risk for gum disease. It seems that one inflammatory condition triggers the other. People with psoriasis are also significantly more likely to suffer from bone loss of tooth-supporting structures.
Even though it’s perceived to be a mouth-contained disease, gum disease is no small condition. Its bacteria are infectious, producing toxins that activate a chronic inflammatory response that leads to the destruction of oral tissues and the bone that supports teeth. Thus, the oral cavity (mouth) and its integration with the digestive system can trigger inflammatory reactions that have harmful and wide-reaching results.
And the oral health-whole health links continue. A symptom of Sjogren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease linked to Celiac disease, is ‘dry mouth.’ Without sufficient saliva to wash away food debris and plaque, there is a greater likelihood of tooth decay. So, with a greater propensity to develop gum disease due to low saliva levels, the inflammatory triggers seem to be continually linked.
There is no doubt that a healthy mouth supports your overall health. Be committed to your at-home oral care and regular dental check-ups and cleanings. These are the best ways to protect your smile and give your body’s immune system a ‘leg up.’ Regular dental visits can also help you avoid expensive, time-consuming dental treatment in the future by preventing problems or minimizing repair needs for those that do occur.
If you are experiencing tenderness and notice your gums bleed occasionally when brushing, schedule an appointment at our Shelby Township dental office at your earliest convenience. These are signs of early-stage gum disease. However, gum disease can begin without obvious warning signs. This is why we encourage people who have avoided or delayed care for a year or more to have a dental check-up even though “nothing hurts.” What’s beneath the gum line may surprise you (and not in a good way).