Lyme disease is well known, but the popular understanding of the condition is often wrought with misconceptions and partial understandings of what the illness is and does. In particular, many of the long-term health complications resulting from Lyme Disease are often underreported. This applies to the complex relationship between Lyme Disease and oral health, which can have serious implications for the person dealing with the illness. As we move into summer, let’s take some time to learn about Lyme Disease and how it can affect your mouth, teeth, and gums.
What is Lyme Disease?
This is a complex question, and we don’t have space here to answer it in its entirety. For a more complete answer, we recommend the Center for Disease Control’s website about the subject. For concerns about your individual health, please contact your primary care physician. In essence, Lyme Disease is an infectious disease caused by a bacterium which is in turn carried by many common varieties of ticks. When the tick latches onto a host, in this case, a human, the disease can move into the host’s system.
Lyme Disease has a number of symptoms in humans, including joint pain, rashes, and other skin conditions, fever, neurological symptoms including neuropathy, and a number of mental health issues. But what does it do to your teeth?
Lyme Disease and Your Teeth
So what does Lyme Disease do to your oral health and your teeth? As with many things regarding Lyme Disease, that’s complicated. As Lyme Disease progresses, there may be a number of symptoms that can affect your oral health, including the following:
- Dry mouth
- Tooth sensitivity
- Pulpitis, or inflammation of the dental pulp
- Bell’s palsy, or partial facial paralysis
- Cranial nerve palsy may occur in early disseminated disease. Bell’s palsy is a form of usually temporary facial neuropathy resulting from inflammation/damage of the nerves in the face and head
- Inflammation of the salivary glands, which is generally temporary
One of the reasons Lyme Disease has so many oral health implications is that the bacteria in question do reside in the mouth, particularly in the gums and around the roots of the teeth. The resulting infection and inflammation can in turn lead to pain in the tooth or jaw that is unrelated to the health of the tooth itself.
Another potential dental issue resulting from Lyme Disease is the impact of secondary symptoms. Some of the manifestations of Lyme Disease can cause issues of their own. TMJ issues can lead to tooth grinding and thus tooth damage. Dry mouth can lead to demineralization of the teeth, weakening them and leaving them vulnerable to infection, cavities, and physical damage. Inflammation of the pulp and gums is a potential source of secondary infections and trouble as well.
So what can you do about Lyme Disease? The first and most important step to take is to reduce your risk of contracting the illness in the first place. This generally involves limiting your contact with ticks carrying disease, and the CDC has a number of tips for doing so here. If you think you may have become infected, it’s important to consult your primary care physician and to alert your dentist as soon as possible. They can guide you through the next steps in living with the condition.
Lyme Disease isn’t something to be scared of, but we should all be aware of it particularly in the summer season. By taking reasonable precautions and understanding the signs and symptoms of Lyme Disease, we can help protect ourselves and our families.