More than 11% of children and adults in Michigan live with asthma1. This painful inflammatory condition causes the airways to swell, interfering with the ability to breathe2. Asthma is the most common chronic disease in children. Some grow out of it by adulthood, but managing asthma can be a lifelong battle for many.
While asthma is most associated with the lungs, it impacts every system involved with breathing–including the mouth. Asthma, asthma medications, and common strategies for coping with both can affect the health of your mouth, teeth, and gums. Poor oral health from asthma-related dental diseases and lack of good daily care habits affects your whole body. It can even make managing a chronic condition like asthma more difficult.
Asthma and Your Oral Health
Asthma doesn’t necessarily cause cavities, gum disease, or oral infections. Instead, side effects from certain asthma medications3, related medical issues, and coping strategies make you more susceptible to oral health problems. People with asthma may be more prone to developing specific dental conditions, including:
- Dry mouth can result from mouth breathing, a habit many people with asthma develop because it reduces breathing strain. Dry mouth can also be caused by saliva changes from asthma medications. As the tissues of the mouth dry out, they become inflamed. This can lead to persistent dental problems, including gum disease and tooth decay.
- Enamel erosion and tooth decay caused by acid reflux. Individuals living with asthma are 75% more likely than people without asthma to have acid reflux4. When excess stomach acid reaches your mouth, it eats away at tooth enamel. Without this layer of protection, your teeth are more susceptible to painful cavities.
- Cavities and eventual tooth loss from lack of daily care and poor medication habits. This includes relying on sugary or acidic drinks to wash away the taste of inhalers or treat dry mouth.
- Untreated dental diseases and poor oral health resulting from lack of professional dental care and poor daily habits. Often this is due to asthma-related dental care anxiety. Many people with asthma avoid the dentist because they fear it will trigger an asthma attack4. Talk to your MDA dentist about your fears, triggers, and anxiety. So they can help make you more comfortable at your visit.
For everyone, especially those with asthma, regular dental visits are essential for maintaining good oral and overall health. Timely treatment and illness prevention stop dental diseases before they develop into painful problems that put your whole health at risk.
Kids, Asthma, and Oral Health
Kids can struggle with the bitter taste and abruptness of inhaled asthma medications. Because of this, they may not be taking them correctly. When this happens, instead of reaching the lungs, asthma medication lingers on teeth, gums, and the tongue. These necessary medications are meant to help the lungs, not the mouth. Many inhaled medications contain additives that cause changes to saliva composition. When medications stay in the mouth, they can contribute to gum irritation, dry mouth, and cavities3.
Asthma medications save lives. They should never be avoided due to concern over oral health complications. Ask your MDA dentist or hygienist to double-check that your child is taking their inhaled medication properly for their asthma and oral health.
Lifesaving inhaled medications offer quick relief from an asthma attack. But, they can leave a terrible taste in the mouth, which children especially hate. To encourage kids to take their medications, caregivers may offer them sugary, carbonated, or acidic drinks afterward. These do more than “wash away” the bad taste of inhaled medications. They contribute to acid erosion of tooth enamel, lead to cavities, and contribute to gum disease.
Tips from MDA Dentists:
Instead of offering kids an acidic or sugary beverage, have them rinse with fluoridated tap water after using an inhaler. Washing away medicine helps protect the mouth. If they still need a sweet drink to get rid of the taste, have them follow that sip with another rinse.
Asthma Management: More Mouth-Happy Habits
Other positive medication coping strategies and habits to encourage include:
- Using inhalers and nebulizers properly to improve medicinal effects.
- Using a spacer to reduce inhaler harshness and unwanted taste.
- Chewing sugar-free gum to help dry mouth and get rid of the taste of medications.
- When using an inhaler before bed, rinse or brush teeth immediately afterward.
- Brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste (use a pea-sized amount for small children and supervise brushing).
- Flossing or using an interdental cleaner daily, along with any dentist-recommended rinses.
- Visiting your MDA dentist at least twice a year.
Asthma and Dental Care Anxiety: Visit an MDA Dentist
As anyone with or caring for someone with asthma knows, asthma attacks can be terrifying and even life-threatening. Managing asthma means knowing what triggers your attacks and avoiding those things, from chemical irritants in the air to unnecessarily stressful situations. For many people with asthma, visiting the dentist can be very stressful–so much so that they may avoid the dentist5.
Skipping dental checkups and not treating minor dental issues when they arise can lead to painful and more difficult to treat complications. The more advanced dental diseases become, the more stressful their treatment and healing are on the body. Extensive treatment can be far more taxing than a checkup or preventive care visit. Unnecessary stress is the last thing your dentist wants for your health.
MDA dentists and their care teams understand the challenges you face due to asthma. As medically trained experts, they will pay special attention to your care and comfort throughout your visit. Your MDA dentist may recommend bringing any PEFR or Peak Flow Charts you track with you6. The dental care team may also measure PEFR at your visit. This helps ensure you are breathing well enough to receive dental care.
If you experience fear or anxiety over going to the dentist, talk to an MDA dentist before your visit. Many patients (especially children) have a more positive experience when they know what to expect at their visit6. For more information on the dental care experience, talk to your MDA dentist’s office staff and ask any questions in advance of your visit.
Find an MDA Dentist Near You
Don’t have a dentist? Use our Find-a-Dentist tool to find an MDA dentist in your area. Talk to your dentist and their dental care team about your asthma at your appointment. They’re here to ensure you get the care you need!
- National Center for Environmental Health(NCEH): 2019 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey in Most Recent Asthma State or Territory Data. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Reviewed 31 Mar 2021. Accessed online: https://www.cdc.gov/asthma/most_recent_data_states.htm
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and National Institutes for Health (NIH). What Is Asthma? NHLBI/NIH: Updated 03 Dec 2020. Accessed online: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/asthma
- Santos NC, Jamelli S, Costa L, et al. Assessing caries, dental plaque, and salivary flow in asthmatic adolescents using inhaled corticosteroids. Allergol Immunopathol (Madr). 2012 Jul-Aug; 40(4):220-4. Accessed online: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21862197
- Thomas MS, Parolia A, Kundabala M, and Vikram M. Asthma and oral health: a review. Australian Dental Journal. 2010; 55(2):128-133. Published 21 May 2010. Accessed online: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1834-7819.2010.01226.x
- Dwibedi N, Weiner RC, et al. Asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, tooth loss, and edentulism among adults in the United States: 2016 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey. Journal of the American Dental Association. 2020; 151(10):737-744. Published 1 Oct 2020. Accessed online: https://jada.ada.org/article/S0002-8177(19)30573-2/fulltext
- Harrington N, Prado N, et al. Dental treatment in children with asthma–a review. British Dental Journal. 2016; 220(6):299-302. Published 25 Mar 2016. Accessed online: https://www.nature.com/articles/sj.bdj.2016.220