Dental Health and Lupus
Last updated: March 2022
Autoimmune diseases like lupus occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks itself.1 For people with lupus, these attacks commonly cause fatigue and joint pain.1 However, people with lupus also have a higher risk for poor oral health.2 Doctors now know that oral health has a role in autoimmune diseases.2-3 Taking care of your teeth and gums could lead to fewer flare-ups and less severe symptoms.2-3
Lupus and dental health
A 2019 study showed that people with lupus have a lot of disease-causing bacteria in their mouths and on their gums.4 These bacteria cause poor oral health and more severe lupus symptoms.5 Lupus and its treatments lower the body’s ability to fight off bacteria.3-4 This makes it easier for bacteria to cause infections and mouth problems.
If bacteria infect your gums, it is called periodontal disease.2 Doctors have found a link between periodontal disease and overall inflammation of the body.2Lupus flare-ups are due to inflammation so having periodontal disease can make your lupus worse.2
What dental problems are common with lupus?
Two out of 5 people with lupus have mouth ulcers.4Ulcers are sores that form on the tongue, lips, or anywhere in the mouth.4 They are whitish in color and may have a red center.4 Some ulcers form white lacy patterns spreading from the center of the ulcer.4 Some people also feel like their mouth is tingling or burning.4
A 2016 study showed all people with active lupus had cavities.4 People with lupus also have more tooth loss compared to people without lupus.4 Pain from the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is common in the first few years of active lupus.4 TMJs are joints on both sides of your jaw.6 Problems with TMJs cause pain while eating and pain when opening or closing your mouth.6
Lupus and Sjogren's disease
Many people with lupus have chronic dry mouth.4 It may be a side effect of your lupus drugs but can also be caused by Sjogren's disease.3 Sjogren’s disease causes you to stop making saliva which then causes dry mouth.7 Sjogren's disease is common in people with lupus.3,7 Out of every 10 people with lupus, as many as 3 will also have Sjogren's disease.7
Lupus complicates dental treatment
Dental work can cause problems for people with lupus.3 The lights used in a dental surgery can cause flare-ups due to lupus-induced photosensitivity.7 A dentist’s tools can also be a problem. Lupus can cause sensitivity to metals commonly used in dental tools.2,7
How can I maintain good dental health?
Simple everyday care can go a long way. Brush your teeth twice a day and floss daily. Get regular check-ups from a dentist who has experience working with lupus. Your dentist may give you a special mouthwash that helps kill bacteria.3 Fluoride rinses can help with dry mouth.2
What if I cannot afford to see a dentist?
Dental care can be expensive. Dental schools may provide a less costly option compared to a regular dentist. You can also check with your local state department of health to see if any state programs are available to help with dental costs. The U.S. Health Resources and Service Administration may be able to provide free or discounted dental care for those who qualify.
How are you most likely to respond when someone offers you unsolicited advice about your lupus?