Recognizing and Managing the Oral Clues That Point to Sjögren's Syndrome

, State University of New York at Buffalo

In This Article


Sjögren's syndrome (SS), a chronic autoimmune exocrinopathy, occurs mainly after age 40. Most SS patients--80% to 90%--are women. SS is characterized by dry eyes and mouth due to lacrimal and salivary gland lymphocytic infiltration. It may be primary or secondary in association with a connective tissue disease, usually rheumatoid arthritis. Lymphoproliferation may produce extraglandular manifestations in pulmonary, cardiac, genitourinary, vascular, and/or nervous systems. The risk of lymphoma is increased 40-fold among SS patients. Dry mouth, or xerostomia, hinders eating, speaking, and swallowing. A thorough patient history, serum analysis, and salivary function tests are essential to determine the genesis of the xerostomia. Insufficient salivary protection can cause rampant dental destruction and soft-tissue mycosis in the mouth. A biopsy of the minor salivary gland from the lower lip is used to detect hallmark inflammatory changes that confirm the diagnosis of SS. Therapy is symptomatic. Regardless of the cause of xerostomia, therapy has 3 fundamental aspects: preventive dental care, dietary counseling (reduction of sugar intake to avoid caries), and moisture replacement (including artificial salivas, frequent sips of water, and room humidifiers). Women taking xerostomic medications may need to lower the dose or substitute them with less xerogenic drugs if possible. Salivation can be stimulated by chewing gum, mints, or paraffin. Cracked lips are treated with petroleum. Dental flossing, supplemental fluoride, and dental appointments every 3 to 4 months are essential to control caries. Pilocarpine, a parasympathomimetic drug that increases salivation, has been found to reduce the severity of xerostomia from radiotherapy; multicenter trials in SS patients are ongoing.


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