How Do Seasonal Allergies Affect Oral Health? Your Seattle, WA General & Family Dentist Explains
Have your allergies been acting up lately? If you suffer from seasonal allergies, you’re likely battling with itchy eyes, a runny nose, congestion or sneezing. What you might not know is that your teeth are also battling against oral health issues caused indirectly by allergies, too!
How Allergies Affect Oral Health
Anyone who suffers from seasonal allergies is well acquainted with the common symptoms, such as sinus irritation and pressure, a sore and scratchy throat, post-nasal drip, and dry mouth. These symptoms of seasonal allergies can cause issues that negatively affect your oral health. Below, we take a look at the most common oral health issues indirectly caused by seasonal allergies.
Allergies can cause dry mouth in two ways:
1) When your nose is blocked up you are forced to breathe through your mouth, which dries out the mouth and lowers saliva production; and
2) Dry mouth is a common side effect of taking many antihistamines.
Dry mouth is not just an uncomfortable condition – due to the lack of sufficient saliva in the mouth, dry mouth also increases your risk of developing cavities, gum disease and bad breath. Saliva is far more important to mouth health than many people realize! Saliva contains ions (like calcium, fluoride and phosphate) that help remineralize weakened tooth enamel; it contains enzymes that help digest food; helps neutralize cavity-causing acids; and proper saliva flow also helps rinse away food particles and sugars from your teeth.
When you don’t have enough saliva, your risk for tooth decay (cavities) and periodontal (gum) disease increases. Some people also develop canker sores inside the mouth when they have an allergy attack, due to dry mouth.
Post-nasal drip is another common allergy symptom which causes oral health problems. Post-nasal drip is the condition in which secretions from the nose accumulate and drain down the back of the throat, often causing congestion, a sore throat, and swollen tonsils. When combined with dry mouth and bacterial build up, post-nasal drip can also lead to swollen and sore gums. Frequent allergy attacks can result in a recurring and consistent issue with swollen and irritated gums, which can lead to difficulty brushing and gum disease.
How do allergies cause toothaches? It all starts in the sinuses – the maxillary sinuses, to be specific. The maxillary sinuses are the largest sinuses in the face, located above the mouth and directly above the upper molars. When allergies cause these sinuses to become irritated and inflamed, they swell and press down on the nerves of your upper molars, resulting in throbbing, aching toothaches.
Though they may feel painful and alarming, toothaches caused by sinusitis should dissipate once the sinus pressure is relieved. If you have a toothache that does not go away after your sinus issues clear up, visit your dentist - the toothache may be caused by a different dental issue.
Tips for Relieving Allergy Symptoms & Improving Oral Health
Stay hydrated – it will help combat dry mouth, bad breath, and excess levels of oral bacteria, while also reducing congestion by helping your body flush away mucus.
Rinse & Gargle with Salt Water – It will help draw out mucus from the sinuses, and will also reduce the amount of harmful, bad-breath and cavity-causing bacteria in your mouth and throat.
Use a Nasal Saline Rinse, such as a nasal spray or neti pot. When used correctly, these saline rinses are quite effective at helping to flush out sinuses, moisten dry nasal passageways, thin mucus and relieve nasal congestion.
Chew Sugar-Free Gum or Mints – it will help combat dry mouth as well as bad breath, while also increasing saliva production. We recommend choosing gum or mints sweetened with xylitol, an ingredient which has been shown to suppress oral bacteria.
Keep brushing and flossing. It’s always important to keep a good oral hygiene routine, but keeping your mouth clean and the levels of oral bacteria under control is especially important when you are dealing with conditions like dry mouth and post-nasal drip.
Treat your allergies with OTC medications like antihistamines (i.e. Benadryl, Zyrtec, etc.), or a prescribed allergy medicine from your doctor. Try to avoid known triggers, such as staying indoors on high pollen count days or wearing a pollen mask.
Talk to your dentist about your allergies, particularly if you have frequent or regular allergy attacks. It is important for your dental team to know what potential oral health issues may be caused by allergies, and they can help you figure out whether any issues are allergy-related or caused by other problems.
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