Asthma and Oral Health
Last updated: March 2022
When we narrow in on a single part of the body or a condition, certain issues can be overlooked. Parts of the body are interconnected, and it can be helpful to view the body like a machine with many moving parts.
Managing your asthma can be challenging enough, but it is important to pay attention to other parts of the body. While the focus of asthma is predominantly the lungs, giving attention to oral health, including your tongue, teeth, and throat, is important too!
Asthma medications and oral health
Like any medication, asthma medication can have potential side effects. There have been several studies that discuss the link between asthma and different aspects of oral health. The use of corticosteroids, anticholinergics, and bronchodilators can each have an effect on your teeth and throat.
The many jobs of saliva
Saliva is vital because it is the first step in digesting food; it additionally serves other important roles in the mouth. Saliva helps wash away bad bacteria, and clear away food buildup that could turn into plaque. It has a unique pH, and since it surrounds the teeth, it keeps your teeth at the correct pH. Saliva is a key component in oral health! When there is a lack of saliva in the mouth, certain diseases of the mouth such as dental caries, dental erosion, periodontal disease, and oral candidiasis are more likely.
Do you experience any of the following oral health concerns?
A dry mouth stems from a lack of saliva. If you have asthma, then it’s highly likely you’ve experienced dryness of the mouth before. Why does this happen? Beta 2 agonists are bronchodilators delivered via inhaler or nebulizer that can reduce the flow of saliva. A solution to this is brushing your teeth immediately after using your inhaler. If brushing your teeth every time seems unrealistic, you could also do a quick mouth rinse with just water.
Having allergies as an asthmatic is common and it translates to a stuffy, runny nose. When this is the case, it is near impossible to breathe through the nose. Breathing predominately through the mouth is a quick way to dry the mouth out. Developing a management plan for your allergies is the best route you can take to ensure that you breathe through the nose and avoid drying out the mouth.
When your mouth is dry due to the lack of saliva, you can be at higher risk for oral complications. Dental erosion, periodontal disease, thrush, and cavities can all be exacerbated when less saliva is present. The next few paragraphs describe the symptoms of these conditions, what they are, and what you can do to prevent them.
Sensitivity to hot, cold, or sweet foods?
Do you ever feel a slight ache in your teeth when you eat something sugary, or while drinking an iced beverage? This is a sensation that stems from dental erosion. Dental erosion is the loss of hard tissue on the teeth due to acids. This is a common oral condition amongst the general population, but using an inhaler or nebulizer can increase your risk.
Inflammation of gums? Pockets between teeth?
These are some of the signs of periodontal disease. The two most common periodontal conditions are gingivitis and periodontitis. Gingivitis is categorized by red, inflamed gums, and bleeding while brushing teeth. Periodontitis is an infection that damages the soft tissue of the tooth and bone that supports the tooth. For this infection, you would notice it from pockets or spaces between teeth, or abnormal loose teeth.
Painful to swallow? White bumps on the throat?
Thrush is a result of an overgrowth of the bacteria called "candida" and is also called oral candidiasis. Candida naturally occurs throughout the body and is kept in check by other bacteria throughout the body. Candida can grow out of control due to diet, the presence of other health conditions, and taking antibiotics. A diet high in sugar, alcohol, and foods containing yeast (bread, pastries, beer) feed the candida bacteria. Some inhalers actually contain a type of sugar do make the deliverance of medicine taste sweeter.
If you have to use an inhaler every day, or several times a day, you could be consistently spraying a sugar onto the back of your throat. The sugar can help promote the growth of candida in the throat. The corticosteroids in your inhaler or nebulizer can also disrupt the beneficial bacteria in your throat, and allow candida to creep in.
Ideally, cleaning your inhaler after every use is the best practice for killing germs that could be lurking on the mouthpiece. There could be bad bacteria that builds on your inhaler, and this could put you at risk for developing a condition like thrush, which is bad for your asthma AND oral health.
Toothache? Pits or discoloration on teeth?
These are the telltale signs of the common cavity, also known as a dental caries. Like the other dental conditions, you face a higher risk of cavities when your teeth are not protected by saliva. As we've probably heard from our dentists and cautious mothers, sugar is the devil for our teeth. If you do indeed use an inhaler or nebulizer that contains sugar, this can also encourage cavities to creep in.
Preventative measures for asthma and oral health
One of the most important symptoms to keep track of is how often you have a dry mouth. Stay hydrated by drinking mostly water, and lower the amount of acidic food and drink you consume. After using your inhaler, try to remember to do a quick water mouth rinse, and brush your teeth frequently. Keep your inhaler clean, and check with your doctor to see if there is indeed a sugar in your inhaler or nebulizer. You may need to change the inhaler you are using.
Make sure to see your dentist on a regular basis. They will be able to identify any of these potential conditions and offer a protocol. As your dentist would say, brush twice a day, and floss every day. Keep in touch with both your dentist and doctor, and communicate any changes in your mouth or throat to keep your asthma and oral health in check.
Which of these have you experienced? Please choose all that apply.
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