Gluten-free diets have become a nutrition fad and gluten-free products abound, but for people with celiac disease being gluten-free is a necessity. Diet is the only treatment for this autoimmune disease and eating even the tiniest amount of gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, can cause severe illness. If left untreated it severely damages the intestines.
Celiac disease, which seems to be on the rise, affects about 1% of the population and is diagnosed with blood tests and biopsy. But celiac disease is tricky because the classic symptoms, diarrhea and weight loss, are not present in everyone with the disease leading some physicians to feel it is underdiagnosed. Some people present with constipation and bloating, others with vitamin deficiencies since the destruction of the intestines leads to poor absorption of nutrients, and some have no symptoms at all. But there are some other classic signs of the disease and they show up in the mouth.
Children with celiac disease are often found to have poorly formed or missing enamel on the teeth resulting in cavities. If they are diagnosed before the age of 7 and treated with gluten-free diet, the adult teeth are unaffected. If not, the disease will also affect the enamel of the permanent teeth. Over 80% of children with celiac disease have been found to have enamel defects of the teeth.
Adults with untreated or undiagnosed celiac disease also have problems with weak enamel, cavities and bleeding gums. In addition they may have higher incidence of advanced periodontal disease similar to people with other types of systemic inflammatory diseases like diabetes. Some people with celiac will develop glossitis, an inflammation of the tongue caused by vitamin deficiency, and about 40% of people with the disease have recurring ulcers of the mouth.
Because the symptoms of celiac disease, both in the mouth and the rest of the body, are similar to other conditions, a full medical history and further testing is necessary. But for the person with a family history as well as medical and dental problems similar to celiac, the answer to mysterious symptoms may start in the dental chair.
For more information on celiac disease please visit: www.celiac.nih.gov/articlearchives.aspx
This blog is not intended to treat or diagnose any dental or medical condition. Please visit your doctor or dentist if you have any medical or dental concerns.