Did you know that gum disease is more common in people with kidney problems than in the general population? The two-way street connecting gum and kidney health needs your attention if you are serious about taking a comprehensive approach to whole-body wellbeing.

For a bit of background, chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a gradual loss of kidney function over time. As you likely know, your kidneys are two bean-shaped organs whose number one job is to filter waste products and excess fluid from the blood. In addition, they help to control blood pressure and produce red blood cells.

CKD is increasingly a serious issue for Australians, affecting roughly 11% of the adult population at the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ last count in 2011-12. This equated to approximately 1.7 million Australian adults aged 18 years and above showing signs of CKD. Notably, the prevalence of more severe CKD, categorised as stages 3 to 5, nearly doubled from the 1999-2000 to 2011-12, suggesting this issue needs greater focus.

How does chronic kidney disease affect your mouth?

It’s a real and intricate relationship between CKD and your oral health plays out through several chain reactions. One of the significant effects of CKD is its impact on the immune system. This isn’t just a standalone issue; it sets off a domino effect, influencing other interconnected systems throughout your body, including your oral cavity. Let’s delve deeper into how this unfolds:

Periodontal disease: People with CKD are more susceptible to developing periodontal disease, a persistent inflammatory condition that affects the gums and supporting structures around the teeth. Symptoms of periodontal disease include bleeding gums, gum recession and possible tooth loss if left untreated. Factors related to CKD, such as weakened immune response and chronic inflammation, can contribute to the development and progression of periodontal disease in these individuals.

Dental caries: If you have CKD, you are at higher risk of developing dental caries, commonly called cavities. Reduced saliva production and changes in its composition among CKD patients create an environment that favours the growth of cavity-causing bacteria. Medications used to manage CKD, such as phosphate binders or immunosuppressants, may also increase the risk of dental caries.

Gingival overgrowth: Certain medications prescribed to treat CKD, like calcium channel blockers or immunosuppressants, can lead to gingival overgrowth—an excessive enlargement of the gums. This overgrowth makes it more challenging to maintain proper oral hygiene and raises the risk of periodontal disease.

Dry mouth (Xerostomia): CKD patients often experience dry mouth or xerostomia, characterised by reduced saliva production. Dry mouth can cause oral discomfort, difficulty chewing and swallowing and an increased susceptibility to dental caries. Some medications used to manage CKD, such as diuretics or antihypertensives, may exacerbate dry mouth symptoms.

dry mouth

Metabolic bone disease: Bone health also suffers the impacts of CKD. When someone has CKD, it can disrupt their bone structure and metabolism, leading to what’s called renal osteodystrophy. This condition results in changes to the architecture of bones and raises the risk of fractures. These mineral and bone disorders linked to CKD can also affect oral health by compromising the integrity of the jawbone. This, in turn, could contribute to issues like tooth mobility and loss.

Why does a healthy mouth matter for chronic kidney disease?

Great oral hygiene is especially important to overall wellbeing for individuals managing chronic kidney disease (CKD). When their mouth isn’t healthy, it can actively worsen CKD. Inflamed or infected gums and teeth can trigger inflammation throughout the body, contributing to a faster decline in kidney function and related health problems.

CKD patients also have a weakened immune system, making them more prone to serious mouth infections. These infections, like gum disease or tooth abscesses, can spread throughout the body and cause severe complications. Therefore, meticulous oral care and prompt treatment of any infections can significantly reduce their risk of developing complications and other health issues.

The impact on quality of life

oral teeth problem

Oral health-related quality of life (OHRQoL) refers to how much your mouth impacts your daily life. This includes physical issues like pain when chewing, psychological concerns about bad breath or missing teeth and even social difficulties due to problems smiling or speaking.

Studies have shown a clear connection: people with CKD who have higher levels of cavities, gum disease or other oral problems tend to report lower OHRQoL scores. This means their oral health is negatively affecting their overall quality of life.

Thankfully, dental issues are largely preventable with excellent oral hygiene and regular dental check-ups and cleanings.

Taking charge of your oral health with chronic kidney disease

When you have chronic kidney disease, maintaining optimal oral health becomes even more important for your overall well-being. Here are some simple tips to help you manage your oral health:

Keep your mouth clean: Remember to brush your teeth twice a day using fluoride toothpaste and floss daily. This helps prevent tooth decay and gum problems. Using mouth rinses that kill germs can also be helpful, especially if your immune system is not as strong due to your kidney condition.

Visit your dentist regularly: It’s a good idea to schedule regular check-ups and cleanings with your dentist. This allows them to keep an eye on your oral health, catch any problems early and give you the right treatment.

Inform your dentist about your medications: Ensure your dentist knows about all the medications you’re taking, especially if they could affect your oral health or cause side effects like swollen gums.

Eat healthy foods: Eating well is important for both your kidneys and your teeth. Your dentist may recommend seeing a nutritionist to help you choose foods that are good for your overall health and won’t cause problems for your teeth.

Work with your healthcare team: Your nephrologist and dentist can work together to ensure you’re getting the best care possible. By coordinating your care, they can address any oral health issues and kidney-related concerns, helping you stay as healthy as possible.

Taking charge of oral health with chronic kidney disease

Navigating health challenges such as chronic kidney disease (CKD) can often feel like piecing together a complex puzzle. Every piece must fit just right to ensure overall well-being. Fortunately, an excellent oral health routine is a piece which fits beautifully into every health puzzle you are likely to encounter. When your oral health is well cared for, it brings many other essential processes in your body into better alignment.

Staying diligent with your oral hygiene, getting regular dental check-ups, and openly communicating with your healthcare providers can significantly contribute to your overall wellbeing. These proactive steps not only help safeguard against potential complications but can also nurture your confidence and overall sense of well-being.

Remember, when you live with CKD, you have a secret weapon on your side — the power of optimising your oral health. By prioritising your oral health, you’re not just taking care of your teeth and gums but also contributing to a healthier and more vibrant version of yourself.