August 2019 Dental NewsletterOral Implications of Gastroparesis
Digestive problems lead to oral health trouble. That’s probably not surprising to anyone who has ever had heartburn so severe that it could be felt in their throat. Gastroparesis is a particularly concerning condition due to the long-term sensitivity and loss of function it inflicts on the teeth and gums. Since a lot about its origins remains unknown, it’s a good idea for the general public to have some understanding of what it does and how dental care can help.
What is Gastroparesis?
Gastroparesis is a condition in which the stomach does not automatically constrict enough to move food to the small intestine. It is caused by damage to the vagus nerve, which controls the stomach’s movements. Damage is caused by viral infections, trauma, medication, autoimmune disorders such as scleroderma, misshapen proteins, nervous disorders, and diabetes.
What Does It Do?
Interference in digestion leads to deficits in blood sugar and nutrition and creates mechanical problems in the flow of stomach acid. Common symptoms of gastroparesis include acid reflux and vomiting, both of which contribute to dry mouth. These symptoms worsen if the patient develops a bezoar, which is a mass of undigested food.
Acidic damage erodes enamel, reducing the teeth’s insulation and leaving them discolored, and damages the saliva glands. The absence of saliva makes it difficult to eliminate food debris and regulate oral bacteria, which produce more acid. As gum tissue recedes from acidic damage, the unprotected tooth roots become more sensitive and, when gum recession is severe, teeth can come loose. Furthermore, bacterial build-up may spread to other parts of the body. Gastroparesis particularly fuels the development of gum disease in people with diabetes, as the thickening of blood vessels caused by diabetes prevents the removal of harmful waste products from gum tissue.
Lifestyle Changes to Protect Teeth
Brushing and flossing are essential to combatting acidic erosion. Gentle brushing removes acid that has settled on the teeth as well as bacteria living on the tongue. Dieticians commonly recommend that people with gastroparesis make lifestyle changes that are also beneficial to dental health, including avoiding carbonated drinks, smoking, and foods that are tough to chew. They also recommend that patients eat more frequent meals. Just remember to brush your teeth more! Something to keep in mind is that tooth decay is associated more with the duration that the teeth are exposed to sugar than the sugar content of the food. Cleaning these substances off your teeth guarantees good dental health. Patients can also reduce acid reflux by not lying down immediately after eating.