Thyroid conditions make it difficult for the body to produce and regulate a normal amount of very important hormones. This causes a ripple effect that may throw major organs and body systems out of sync. In terms of oral health, the side effects of a thyroid condition may cause serious changes in both the function and health of the tongue, teeth, and gums.
Specifically, thyroid disorders may cause the following conditions:
1. Elevated risk of gum disease, heart disease, and stroke.
In general, thyroid conditions may inhibit the body’s ability to heal wounds. This is particularly bad when it comes to oral health, because it makes it easy for the gums to fall into disrepair. Weak or damaged gums are more susceptible to infection than strong and healthy ones, which elevates the risk for gum disease among individuals who have a thyroid condition. Elevated risk of gum disease is just the beginning of the story, however.
Gum disease also increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, explains the American Academy of Periodontology (ii). Individuals with gum disease may have a more difficult time warding off oral bacteria compared to individuals with healthy gums. Researchers believe that this makes it easier for oral bacteria to pass through the gums and into the bloodstream. From there, the bacteria attach to fatty plaques and contributes to clot formation. Additional research has shown that stroke victims are more likely to have an oral infection compared to a control group of individuals who had not suffered from a stroke.
2. Dry mouth (Xerostomia), cavities, and dental caries.
As the name implies, dry mouth occurs when the salivary glands stop producing a normal amount of saliva. Normally, saliva helps to prevent cavities in two big ways. First, it helps to dissolve the foods we eat and prevents stickier food particles, like starches, from clinging to tooth enamel. Second, saliva helps to restore the structural strength of tooth enamel by delivering a continual source of minerals to each tooth in the mouth.
When saliva production is reduced, it becomes easier for food particles to cling to the surfaces of the teeth. Over time, this leads to the cultivation of oral bacteria and tooth decay. Less saliva also means that fewer minerals are delivered to the teeth, making it easier for cavities and dental caries to form in the enamel of each tooth.
3. Enlarged / swollen tongue (Macroglossia).
Thyroid disorders may cause an abnormal swelling of the tongue, which in turn makes it difficult to speak, eat, swallow, and sleep. Of particular concern is the risk this condition poses to the sleep cycle. Individuals with this condition may find it difficult to fall asleep, or they may wake abruptly as the tongue restricts the ability of the body to breath naturally during the night. This condition may contribute to sleep deprivation, a serious sleep disorder that is linked to a number of other conditions like mental fatigue and the early development of Alzheimer’s disease (iii).
4. Distorted sense of taste (Dysgeusia).
A thyroid disorder may also cause the sense of taste to become slowly or abruptly distorted. While non-life threatening, a distorted sense of taste can severely reduce quality of life by decreasing one’s sensitivity to unique flavors or eliminating the sense of taste altogether.
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By: Dr. Ted Herrmann