So today I had a dental appointment. I don’t like dental appointments. i know that sounds like a normal thing to say. Who likes going to the dentist right? They are associated with pain, drills, scrapey thingies… But that’s not why I don’t like them. I don’t like them because my teeth have given me more problems than most people ever have in their lifetime.
This is how it is for a person with Sjogren’s Syndrome. And all because the disease attacks our salivary glands. Sjogren’s attacks any moisture producing part of the body, but is most well known for attacking the tear glands (lacrimal) and the salivary glands (biggest being parotid). So our mouths are constantly dry. Our teeth live in an atmosphere devoid of the moisture bath that they need to remain healthy. And strong. As a result, Our teeth become the source of a huge amount of stress.
Imagine eating breakfast before work one day and as you are chewing, a tooth falls apart. You are probably assuming (remember the old saying…) that the meal being eaten must be a very crunchy one. Nope. It was cheerios. In milk. I lost almost a third of one of my molars that day. Or the day I decided that chewing Trident White dental gum would be a good idea. It helps dry mouth, strengthens enamel, and whitens teeth at the same time! What could go wrong? Yup. The other molar broke.
These are not extreme examples either. This is the way Sjogren’s works. It weakens teeth by drying them out and allows bad bacteria to sit on teeth. It does this by hurting the glands that produce saliva. Saliva bathes the teeth, keeps them moist and strong, and washes the bacteria off of them preventing cavities. During the first 3 years I was diagnosed, I had 14 cavities. 14! I had never had one in the 29 previous years of my life. I have since endured 20 more cavities, 3 crowns, multiple replacement fillings (yes, fillings can just pop out at will), and one replacement crown.
But that is not all Sjogren’s does to a person’s mouth. Have you ever had a cold and awakened with your tongue stuck to the roof of your mouth? Those of us with Sjogren’s have that happen while we talk. When we get colds and have to breathe through our mouths at night, we wake up with tongues so dry they are literally burnt. I cannot for the life of me explain the physics of that but I can say that on those mornings, orange juice is the enemy!
We also frequently get ulcerations of the mouth. Although that is a symptom more closely associated with Lupus, the constant dryness can cause sores and ulcers to crop up. Yeast infections of the tongue are also a common occurrence. Saliva is “formulated” to keep bacteria and yeast overgrowth at bay. Without enough of it, we develop all sorts of problems with random infections that “normal” people don’t have to deal with. And if we get an infection, getting rid of it is not easy. Our immune systems don’t work right, remember?
So how do we deal with all this? Personally, I have a toothbrush and special toothpaste in every bathroom to allow me to brush my teeth whenever I feel the need to. When I worked, I had one at the office too. I carried one in my car and my purse. Same with floss. I see a dentist 4 times a year. And most importantly, I drink water all the time! If my body can’t keep my mouth moist enough, I have to help it. So I drink to bathe my teeth. And to be able to finish my sentences without choking, but that’s another story!
By the way...My teeth were perfect today!