by Jody Smith
Poor dental health may not be at the top of the list when you think of ME/CFS problems. But many of us who have been sick for any length of time can tell you some horror stories about our teeth. I don’t know if having ME/CFS is directly linked to poor teeth and all that can result, but the inability to get to a dentist or to pay for a visit will assuredly have a direct effect.
Do you have dental coverage? Many with ME/CFS don’t. I certainly don’t. We followed the only path open to us for years, which was to not go to the dentist. A year ago, we could afford to start making dental visits once again. But with no coverage, it is expensive. I’m just glad we can do it. But many with ME/CFS are not so lucky.
Being too sick to lift your head, let alone get out of bed, let alone drag yourself to the dentist’s office of course means no regular checkups and cleanings. Some have no way to get there, either because they can’t drive or have no car or have no-one to drive them, and can’t manage a taxi or a bus ride. And then others don’t have the money to be able to pay for their transport or to pay the dentist.
So what do you do if you fall into any or all of these categories? Generally you leave your teeth and gums to their own devices, and that is an open door to tooth decay and a cascade of further failing health.
Let’s say you can successfully clear all the hurdles I’ve mentioned, and you can get yourself into the dentist’s chair. The potential obstacles don’t stop there. We are an intensely sensitive lot, unable to handle medications and chemicals in “normal” doses. Did the dentist tell you that you have cavities, or need a root canal? Can you successfully bear the anaesthetic, the ingredients in the fillings and the materials used in a root canal? Are you terrified of finding out too late that you’ve just paid someone to lodge unfriendly matter into your mouth?
Several years ago, a wonderful dentist in our area provided free dental work to some families in need, including ours. I came off not too badly though the cleaning after more than a decade of no care was a brute. My son Jesse, though, had a mouth full of cavities and needed a root canal. Horrible for someone so ill to sit through these sessions. I was terrified, having read some pretty frightening things about the cure possibly being worse than the bad tooth. But I didn’t feel I had a choice so I took a deep breath and got the kid in there. Since then, he seems to have benefited from cleaning out the toxins in his system. So far, so good, as far as we can tell, but I really felt like we were rolling dice.
I have had a couple of friends who were housebound or completely bedridden with ME/CFS who could not go to see a dentist. I started scouting around for that unicorn of the medical field – a dentist who makes house calls. I was dismayed to find that most are not set up for that.
I wasn’t too surprised by this however. What did surprise me was that there are a few dentists who will actually come to your home and take care of your teeth. Your chance of seeing such a godsend is of course entirely dependent upon living in the vicinity, and being able to make the trip. Still, they do exist. May their numbers increase.
Dental issues are a huge, though largely unrecognized toxic mess for many who are chronically ill. And for those of us with ME/CFS, with all the sensitivities and intolerances we deal with, the mess is bigger and even more toxic. And the older we are, especially among those who have spent many of their years sick, the more the mess compounds.
Even when you brush and floss your teeth regularly, bacteria gradually build up over time. They harden and turn into plaque, which in turn becomes tartar, a hard mineral deposit. And you can’t get that stuff off by yourself. Eventually you may have swelling and bleeding of the gums. Enter gingivitis, a common form of periodontal disease. Periodontal disease attacks gums, periodontal ligaments, teeth and sockets with inflammation and infection. If plaque and tartar are left untreated, bacteria begin to find their way into your bloodstream, and can eventually affect many parts of the body. Oral bacteria and their associated inflammation can set us up for other diseases and conditions like cardiovascular disease, endocarditis (inflammation of the heart membrane), premature birth or low birth weight and may be a risk factor for Alzheimers (like we need any worsening of our cognitive faculties).
Medications like antihistamines, decongestants, diuretics and painkillers can decrease the flow of saliva. Normally saliva will neutralize acids and wash food away from oral tissues, but without normal levels, your mouth is vulnerable to bacterial toxins that can result in tooth decay and periodontal disease. And of course, if your mouth is full of cavities or infected gum tissue, eating food and getting nourishment just became an even tougher tussle than it was when “all” you had was ME/CFS.
When I present a raft of problems I like to also present some potential solutions, but that is so often not possible with ME/CFS struggles. And this one, I’m afraid, is no different. Unless you live near a dentist who makes house calls, or unless you are well enough and financially healthy enough to get in for a visit.
If you are stuck managing on your own, do the best you can with what you have access to. Floss. Brush your teeth twice a day. If you can’t hack toothpaste, consider coconut oil and baking soda.
As is so often the case, for the very ill and the very poor, awareness is all I can offer here. This doesn’t help those vulnerable ones but perhaps increased awareness in the greater community, here in our ME/CFS home, and in the world around us, will prod some conscientious souls to action once they see clearly yet another of our dire needs. Let’s hope some champions see this, and are spurred on in our behalf.
Oral health: A window to your overall health
Periodontal (Gum) Disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments. July 2011.
Floss & Other Interdental Cleaners. ADA.org. Retrieved August 18, 2012.
Flossing. Hopkinsmedicine.org. Retrieved August 18, 2012.
Coconut oil could combat tooth decay
Coconut oil can combat tooth decay, study suggests