Lupus and Oral Health

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), more commonly called lupus, is a disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues, known as an autoimmune disease. 1

Though lupus can affect people of all ages, genders and ethnic backgrounds, women of childbearing age make up the largest group with the disease, typically between the ages of 15-44. Lupus is two to three times more common among women of color than white women.2 There is no cure for lupus and 95 percent of lupus patients experience some type of side effect or symptom in their mouth.1

Possible Oral Health Complications of Lupus

Lupus is sometimes referred to as the “great imitator” because it replicates signs of other diseases, making it difficult to diagnose. These symptoms come and go, getting better and worse throughout time. It takes an average of six years to reach a lupus diagnosis.2 Lupus affects the joints, organs and tissues of the body and can cause a range of symptoms including skin rashes, joint pain, swollen glands, hair loss, fatigue, UV light sensitivity and fever with no identified cause.1, 3 Up to 45 percent of patients experience mouth sores, one of the most common lupus symptoms.4

Oral health complications for people who have lupus can include:1,5, 6

Possible Oral Health Complications of Lupus Treatment

Many of the medications prescribed to treat the side effects of lupus can also cause issues for the mouth and teeth. Steroids are commonly given to lupus patients but can cause cold sores, thrush (yeast infection), dry mouth, swelling, joint pain in the jaw (TMJ) and even damage to the bones of the mouth and jaw.1, 6

Patients experiencing dry mouth (xerostomia), especially for extended periods of time, are at an increased risk for cavities and gum disease (gingivitis) because saliva plays an important role in fighting these issues.1

Some drugs intended to weaken the immune system’s response (immunosuppressive) can delay healing and increase the likelihood of infections, so it is important that both your physician and dentist are aware of all the medications you are taking and any dental procedures you may need to undergo. These medications can also increase the risk of oral cancer, so a thorough screening is an important part of each dental exam.1

Learn more

Taking Care of Your Mouth When You Have Lupus

Sources:

1. Treating Patients with Lupus; Dimensions of Dental Hygiene; October 2013
2. Lupus facts and statistics; National Resource Center on Lupus
3. Lupus fact sheet; Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; July 2012
4. Oral Manifestations of Systemic Disease; American Family Physician; December 2010
5. Oral candidiasis in systemic lupus erythematosus; Lupus; June 2014
6. Another Lupus Challenge: Caring for Your Mouth; Lupus Research Alliance
7. Mouth maintenance: Fight tooth decay and gum disease with proper dental upkeep; Lupus Foundation of America