Understanding Sjӧgren’s Syndrome

Sjӧgren’s [SHOW-grins] syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that, despite being widely unknown, affects roughly 4 million people in the United States. Of those living with Sjӧgren’s syndrome, nine out of 10 are women. This autoimmune disorder can be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms are similar to other diseases like chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. On average, it takes three years to make a definitive diagnosis.

People who suffer from Sjӧgren’s have symptoms like dry mouth and a burning sensation in their eyes, both of which may feel gritty or dry because Sjӧgren’s causes inflammation in the glands that produce saliva and tears. Saliva is made up of mostly water, but contains over 60 different substances that cleanse, protect, and lubricate your entire mouth, protecting against tooth decay and bacteria. A reduced flow of saliva can make it hard to talk, chew and swallow. Have you ever tried to speak or eat a cookie when your mouth is dry? It’s not easy!

You may need to intensify your home care routine to treat dry mouth and fight the increased risk of decay and infection caused by Sjӧgren’s syndrome. Brushing after each meal, flossing daily, and frequent visits to the dentist are often the norm for people living with Sjӧgren’s syndrome — and that’s just to combat tooth decay and oral infection. Prescription fluoride products can help decrease the risk of cavities. The discomfort of dry mouth can be reduced by sipping water throughout the day and avoiding carbohydrate-filled foods, sugary drinks, and candy. Chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on hard sugar-free candies can help increase the flow of saliva and reduce discomfort from dry mouth.

 There’s no cure for Sjӧgren’s syndrome. Most of the treatments are meant to help with the symptoms and not the underlying disease. More research is needed before we know how to manage Sjӧgren’s syndrome better. Don’t forget that visits to your dentist play a crucial role in identifying Sjӧgren’s syndrome and counteracting its side effects.  

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