We don’t often think of our mouth as part of our digestive track – but it is! In fact, digestion starts in your mouth with your first bite of food! This is why diseases in the digestive tract and other stomach problems can affect our oral health. Our mouths often show early signs of certain stomach issues, which can help a doctor find a diagnosis and begin treatment.
More than 3 million adults in the U.S. have a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The two main forms of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, which both affect the mouth. This means that people with IBD must pay special attention to their oral health and keep up with dental appointments.
What are common symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease?
Women are slightly more prone to IBD than men. While the condition can occur at any age, diagnosis often occurs after the age of 15. Here are some symptoms of IBD:
- Fever and fatigue
- Weight loss
- Reduced appetite
- Blood in your stool
Some IBD conditions show symptoms inside your mouth. Signs of the disease in your mouth may include:
- Bad breath
- Bleeding gums
- Inflamed lips or tongue
- Dry mouth
- Ulcers/canker sores
- Mucosal or epithelial tags (small, white growths in the fold between the gum and inside cheek or lips)
If you have IBD, it’s important to take care of your dental health. 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.
How can Crohn’s disease affect 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.
In one study, researchers found that between 20% and 50% of patients with Crohn’s disease had mouth sores. These mouth sores can appear any time but are typically worse during a flare-up.
People with Crohn’s disease may experience more inflammation in their mouths than those without Crohn’s. This inflammation can lead to issues such as periodontitis, an infection of the gums. People with Crohn’s are also more likely to have cavities. Research has shown that individuals with Crohn’s have higher levels of 2 different types of bacteria in their saliva, which may relate to the increase in cavities.
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% 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.
These numbers show that people with Crohn’s disease must stay on top of their dental care if they want to maintain a healthy smile.
How can ulcerative colitis affect your mouth?
Ulcerative colitis differs is the most common inflammatory bowel disease. People with ulcerative colitis may suffer from many of the same oral symptoms as those with Crohn’s disease. In addition, an oral condition called pyostomatitis vegetans (PV) is unique to patients with ulcerative colitis.
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. PV appears as yellow or white, slightly elevated lesions that are often described as “snail tracks.”
How should you care for your mouth if you have IBD?
Keeping up with dental appointments allows us to maintain our oral health. It’s even more important when we have a disease like IBD that compromise the health of our mouth and our bodies. Make an appointment with your dentist and your doctor if you’re experiencing any redness, swelling, mouth lesions or sores.
It’s important to keep in mind that reactions to medications, infections, and other unrelated diseases could also cause oral symptoms. A nutrient deficiency can also cause similar symptoms in the mouth. Tell your dentist about all the medications you’re taking and any diagnoses from your physician. You 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 temporary relief for mouth sores, they only provide momentary comfort. Speak with your dentist 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.
Practicing good oral hygiene—brushing twice a day and flossing daily—is also key to maintaining a healthy smile.