Lupus is an autoimmune disease that affects an estimated 5 million people across the globe. The illness, which causes the body to attack its own healthy tissue, can damage the heart, lungs, kidneys and blood cells, just to name a few systems. Symptoms can come and go in flareups, but there is currently no cure for lupus, which is largely treated by managing symptoms via steroids and anti-inflammatories. Symptoms of lupus include conditions like fatigue, rash, fever and pain in the joints.
While the only option currently is to manage lupus symptoms, there is ongoing research into finding a cure, and a recent study may help to shed some light on reducing symptoms or preventing the illness altogether.
According to Dr. Kelley Mingus, a dentist in Bend, Oregon, a recent study found that there is a connection between lupus and oral health.
“In this study, researchers looked at a possible link between lupus and oral hygiene,” says Mingus. “What they found was that people with lupus were more likely to have gum inflammation and tissue loss commonly associated with gum disease.”
Though the study did not find a connection between the severity of the patients’ gum disease and their lupus symptoms, Mingus says the link should be enough for people to take a closer look at their oral health and hygiene.
The study, which consisted of 10 studies combined into one, used data from studies in Asia, Europe and in two African American studies done in the United States, for a total of over 80,000 participants aged 15 to 50. Most of the study subjects were female, as lupus generally affects more women than men. In fact, 90 percent of lupus sufferers are female. This could be due to hormonal differences between men and women, namely the female hormone estrogen.
“With what we know about all the illnesses that can be caused or contributed to by poor oral hygiene and gum disease, it’s really imperative that we take good care of our oral hygiene,” Mingus says. “That means flossing at least once a day and brushing at least twice – and make sure you brush for a minimum of two minutes at a time.”
Mingus isn’t wrong. Researchers in the study believe that taking good care of the gums may actually prevent lupus in some cases, or at least lessen the severity of symptoms – and that should be reason enough to care for oral health, Mingus says.