“Celiac Teeth:” The Effects of Celiac Disease on Dental and Oral Health
Celiac disease is a difficult-to-diagnose genetic autoimmune disorder that affects the digestive tract—primarily the small intestine, where damaged villi are unable to properly absorb nutrients. According to BeyondCeliac.org, an estimated 1 in 133 Americans has celiac disease. There is currently no medical or pharmaceutical treatment or cure available—at this time, the only known management technique is a completely gluten-free diet.
Celiac disease can cause a host of medical problems for affected individuals, including severe digestive issues, anemia, malnutrition, joint pain, thin bones, extreme fatigue, and more. It can also have a significant negative effect on teeth and overall oral health.
What are “Celiac Teeth?”
“Celiac teeth” is the commonly used term for teeth that have been impacted or damaged by celiac disease. The condition generally occurs when a child develops celiac disease while their permanent teeth are developing (starting around age seven). But it can also impact adults who developed celiac disease later in life if they don’t adhere to a gluten-free diet.
Many affected individuals experience symptoms such as grooves, bands, or pits on the teeth; white, brown, or yellow spots on the teeth; and teeth that have a translucent appearance. In severe cases, the shape and structure of the teeth is significantly altered.
These abnormalities are usually a result of nutritional deficiencies, as the body is not able to properly absorb important nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D that are critical to bone and enamel development. Additionally, since celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder, some researchers believe that the enamel deficiency is caused by an abnormal immune system response.
Oftentimes, these enamel deficiencies can lead to significant dental problems such as frequent cavities and infections which require fillings, root canals, and extractions to remedy.
In fact, since celiac disease is notoriously difficult to diagnose and individuals often suffer for years before being officially diagnosed, dentists are sometimes the first to recognize the symptoms based on the presence of celiac teeth.
Other Oral Health Problems
Celiac teeth is not the only dental condition that can be caused by celiac disease. People affected also frequently experience additional oral health problems such as:
- Recurrent canker sores
- Cheloisis: cracks and scaling around the mouth and lips
- Atrophic glossitis: a smooth, painful tongue
- Oral lichen planus: painful white or red patches or open sores in the mouth
Additionally, individuals with celiac disease who do not follow a strict gluten-free diet are ten times more likely to develop a form of oral cancer affecting the mouth, pharynx, or esophagus than sufferers who do adhere to the diet.
Managing the Oral Health Effects of Celiac Disease
While neither celiac disease nor celiac teeth are curable conditions, partnering with your dentist and doctor to develop a plan of action for your dental care can go a long way in making your life more manageable. A strict gluten-free diet is generally the most effective treatment and adhering to it can prevent additional damage to the teeth, throat, and mouth. If you have celiac teeth or other oral symptoms, your dentist can help develop a customized treatment strategy that addresses your mouth’s unique needs.
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