Multiple Sclerosis: How It Can Affect Your Dental Health, And How Your Dentist Can Help

Multiple sclerosis can affect almost any part of the body, but most people who don't directly suffer from the condition (not to mention a lot of people who do) are not aware of the devastating effects MS can have on dental health. While keeping your teeth clean may not be that high on your list of health priorities as an MS sufferer, neglecting your oral health can have a serious effect on your teeth, gums and even your overall health.

Unfortunately, taking proper care of your teeth as an MS sufferer can be remarkably difficult, as you face a number of obstacles that people without MS generally don't even consider. That doesn't mean that MS sufferers are doomed to a life of poor oral health; by working closely with your dentist and other dental professionals, you can maintain your healthy teeth and gums for decades to come.

How can multiple sclerosis affect my oral health?

Almost everyone with MS suffers from diminished coordination and/or muscle weakness, which can be particularly pronounced in the arms and hands. It goes without saying that this can make brushing and flossing your teeth thoroughly difficult or impossible, and even standing in front of a sink for long enough to properly brush your teeth can be challenging and painful. 

Many people with MS also suffer from nerve damage in and around the mouth and jaw area, which can lead to severe pain, stiffness and numbness in and around the mouth. Already severe pain can be worsened by brushing and flossing, while oral numbness can make it difficult to clean your back teeth and may cause you to accidentally damage your gums.

The medications you take to control your MS symptoms can also have an adverse effect on your oral health. Dry mouth (also called xerostomia) is a common side effect of many medications used to treat MS, and insufficient saliva production can worsen tooth decay and leave you more vulnerable to oral infections.

As a consequence of these problems, MS sufferers are much more likely to suffer from tooth decay and gum disease than the general population. Gum disease can be particularly dangerous for MS sufferers, as the inflammation it causes can spread to other areas of the body, causing a range of symptoms and potentially putting your overall health in jeopardy.

How can my dentist help prevent my MS from affecting my oral health?

Working closely with dentists, dental hygienists and other medical professionals is crucial for any MS sufferer, and the more serious your symptoms, the more important professional aid becomes.

People suffering from serious nerve and muscle dysfunction that prevents easy use of a toothbrush should visit their dentist frequently for regular inspections and deep cleanings. Dentists can also supply you with specialised toothbrushes featuring easy-grip handles and flexible heads, which can help make brushing easier for people with reduced mobility. If these do not help, your dentist may supply you with prescription-strength fluoride toothpastes and overnight fluoride rinses which can make thorough cleaning easier.

Regular trips to the dentist are also essential for preventing the spread of gum disease, and a reputable dentist can spot the earliest signs of inflammation and give you the care you need to stop the problem worsening. If you suffer from a dry mouth, your dentist can supply you with saliva-producing medications and oral rinses, and will check your salivary glands for signs of infection or stone formation which may be worsening the problem.