Close to three million Australians have asthma, meaning around 1:9 people are affected by this respiratory disease.And although we understand a lot about how asthma can be triggered and attacks treated, we’ve not always fully appreciated the link between asthma and oral health. Evidence has shown a common outcome of using asthma medication is for asthmatics to be at a higher risk of developing cavities. This is because of changes in the type and quantity of saliva they produce. Asthmatics are also more likely to breathe through their mouth, causing dryness (xerostomia) and further changes in their saliva’s pH level. Essentially, there’s not the same protective mechanism from saliva in helping to prevent tooth decay.
Asthma is also a risk factor for other oral health problems, including periodontal (gum) disease - particularly gingivitis and candidiasis (thrush). Asthmatics are also more likely to develop tooth erosion and subsequently, tooth decay, also called cavities. But this doesn’t mean asthmatics have to experience negative oral health consequences. With some knowledge and understanding, and a proactive relationship with a dentist, many of the harmful effects of asthma medication on teeth and gums can be minimised.
I’m an asthmatic – what do I need to know?
The key to successfully managing asthma is to understand your individual triggers and treatment options. Your priority will always be to maintain adequate air-flow into and out of your lungs. Speak with your doctor about your asthma management plan. Your dentist will help guide you in managing any impact from medication on your teeth and gums.
Top tips to reduce tooth decay when you’re an asthmatic
- Avoid brushing your teeth right after you’ve used your inhaler; instead, rinse your mouth with plain water to remove residue and if the taste is bothering you. Steroids can further damage already weakened enamel. Speak with your doctor about using a spacer with your inhaler. This will help to direct the medication directly into your lungs, rather than onto your teeth and gums.
- Be particular about tooth brushing. Use fluoridated toothpaste at least twice a day and floss daily. Fluoride mouthwashes can help to re-mineralise tooth enamel.
- Limit your intake of sweet foods and drinks. Avoid drinking soft drinks, juice or sweetened drinks. Their high sugar content can lead to decay.
- Consider using a ‘dry-mouth’ wash or gel if dry mouth is a problem. Chew sugarless gum to promote your saliva flow. Drink lots of plain tap water to keep hydrated.
- Book an appointment with your dentist regularly, every six months or more frequently when advised.
At your dental appointments
- Tell your dentist if you or your children are asthmatic and let them know the medications you’re taking. Bring your preventer and reliever inhalers with you.
- Take a copy of your asthma management plan. Make sure you have an up to date copy to share.
- Let the receptionist know if cool morning air is a trigger for you. If so, it could help to make an appointment for later in the day