Oral dryness in lupus? Sjogren Syndrome

Do you have a dry mouth or difficulty swallowing? Does your mouth feel like it’s been stuffed with cotton balls and you can barely speak?  Or, if you can speak are you understood? If so, I’ll guess that you don’t stray far from home without a water bottle.

Not always found in lupus, this condition of dry mouth-or xerostomia- is a hallmark of Sjogren’s Syndrome, another autoimmune disease that often is found in lupus sufferers.  This time, the cells of the immune system have set their sights on and mount their attack on the mucous-producing, or exocrine glands, thinking they are foreign invaders, when, in fact they are ‘self.’

The exocrine glands we speak of here (there are others) are the salivary glands,  abundant around the mouth and jaw. Very often, a dry mouth can be caused by medications, but this dry mouth is worse-Wait a minute, is a contest! A chronic dry mouth is HORRIBLE-whatever the cause.

So, why the fuss? Here’s why. Normally, saliva bathes the teeth continuously ridding them of food particles and preventing bacteria from lodging in dental plaque, taking up residence and thriving in the warm, dark, moist environment of the mouth.

In the absence of  this (being continuously bathed), odor causing bacteria gather here and thrive in the darkness and warmth of the mouth-up to no good: Once bacteria take hold in the mouth, they cause cavities, bad breath, gingivitis, result in abscesses; this can result in the need for expensive dental work. Mucous membranes can become very tender, easily torn, and extremely sensitive.

Other oral complications might be bleeding gums, gingivitis, and some patients get oral thrush. Also, because of the dark, warm environment of the dry mouth, painful infections can develop in salivary glands (usually the parotid glands) and your appearance is much like a chipmunk that has over-stuffed for the winter! Painful sores can develop in the dry mouth. Lips tend to be very dry, crack easily; and the dryness is not helped very much by an increase in drinking water. Lip balms are a constant companion in your purse, car; everywhere!

About 95% of lupus patients have a dry mouth; mandating close attention to dental care, including regular brushing with a soft toothbrush and flossing and very regular dental check-ups.

  • Action steps: things to ask your doctor about
  • Biotene® products
  • lemon lozenges
  • inform your dentist
  • brush and floss with soft toothbrush at least 3 times daily
  • pilocarpine™ prescription medication.
  • Salivart® products
  • drink plenty of  water



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