The link between kidney and oral health
SUMMARY: National Kidney Month is upon us, so it's time to get informed about kidney disease, which can lead to bad breath, dry mouth and even gum disease.
Posted: March 11, 2014
As National Kidney Month, March is the perfect time of year to increase your awareness of the importance of your bean-shaped organs. It's been long known that people who suffer from kidney, or renal, disease often experience oral issues, from dry mouth to a greater risk of infection. In fact, oral health conditions that are symptoms of renal disease can be helpful for doctors to come to an accurate diagnosis, and recent discoveries about the relationship between the mouth and these organs may make it easier to detect serious illness. Learn more about the link between oral and kidney health:
What is kidney disease?
Every person is born with two kidneys located underneath the rib cage, and each one contains approximately 1 million nephrons - tiny structures that filter your blood of toxins, waste and extra water. The kidneys are also responsible for turning fluids into urine. Renal disease generally disrupts this essential bodily function by destroying nephrons, making the body unable to remove toxins on its own. Kidney disease is often genetic, though it can also be onset by medications and injuries. Those who suffer from this condition may experience weakness, swelling in the extremities, vomiting and shortness of breath caused by the build-up of waste in the body as well as an array of issues with the mouth. There is no cure for this illness, but patients can undergo dialysis or kidney transplants to restore function to these organs.
How does kidney disease affect oral health?
People with kidney disease tend to be at greater risk of gum disease. They generally have weaker immune systems than someone with properly functioning kidneys and are therefore more likely to acquire infections. Another major complaint is inflammation in the salivary glands within the mouth, as well as dry mouth. The medications involved in treating kidney disease can also be the cause of some of these symptoms.
Bad breath, also known as halitosis, and a pungent taste in the mouth are also common side effects in kidney disease patients. That's because those with the condition have excess urea in the blood (which the organs would typically filter out), and the urea turns into putrid-smelling ammonia.
While stinky breath and dryness may be unpleasant, there are much greater issues that can arise from poor oral health tied to kidney disease. Gum disease is known to lead to tooth decay and loss, and it has been tied to cardiovascular issues such as heart attack and stroke. Additionally, since the body's ability to absorb calcium is weakened, those with the condition are more likely to lose bone mass in their jaws, which can cause the teeth to loosen and fall out.
Maintaining oral health with kidney disease
Due to these life-threatening concerns, it's especially important for people who have kidney disease to take extra special care of their mouths. Someone undergoing dialysis should see their dentists directly after the procedure to develop an oral health plan - he or she may prescribe a special toothpaste to provide the teeth with maximum protection. Additionally, if a doctor prescribes a blood thinner to aid the dialysis process, the patient may also have to take antibiotics before dental treatment, since blood thinners may put people at an increased risk of infections.
Recent findings concerning the kidney and mouth connection
While the link between oral and kidney disease is largely undisputed, there has been relatively little research into the subject. However, scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine are planning to conduct an extensive study investigating this connection. Preliminary research has shown the that periodontal disease can be tied to kidney disease, spurring the researchers to delve deeper and determine if treating gum infections can curtail or even halt the development of kidney disease.