Lupus and oral health
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), more commonly known as lupus, is a disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues, known as an autoimmune disease.
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. There is no cure for lupus and 95 percent of lupus patients experience some type of side effect or symptom in their mouth.
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. 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. Up to 45 percent of patients experience mouth sores, one of the most common lupus symptoms.
Oral health complications for people who have lupus can include:
- Red and white sores, usually painless, on lips, gums and roof of the mouth
- Dry mouth
- Sjogren’s syndrome
- Thrush (yeast infection)
- Cracked lips
- Periodontal (gum) disease
- Lichen planus
Potential 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 and even damage to the bones of the mouth and jaw.
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.
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.
The TRICARE Dental Program has you covered
If you or an enrolled family member has been diagnosed with lupus, the TRICARE Dental Program (TDP) Wellness Program is available to provide enhanced dental benefits at no cost to you. Getting the proper will have a positive effect on your overall wellness as scientists continue to uncover connections between certain chronic conditions and gum disease.
Register to use TDP Wellness Program any time after your TDP effective date of coverage. Here’s how:
- Return to TDP’s home page and log in My Account using your DS Logon
- Select “Manage My Wellness”
- Add your medical condition
With the TDP Wellness Program’s enhanced benefits you’ll get full coverage for additional periodontal services, including scaling and root planing and some surgical procedures, to remove the financial obstacles to total oral care. For additional details and limitations, consult the TDP handbook and supplement.
You can download a brochure about Lupus here.