July 23rd is World Sjögren's Day. It’s named after Dr. Henrik Sjögren (pronounced SHOW-grin), the Swedish ophthalmologist who noticed a connection between patients he was seeing with dry eyes, and patients who suffered from a consistently dry mouth. Further investigation resulted in the discovery that these symptoms where caused by an immune system attack on these patients' moisture-producing glands. Today, approximately 4 million Americans live with this chronic disease, and many more go undiagnosed. Let’s take a quick look at the symptoms, and learn more about this disease that causes more than just the occasional parched mouth.
What is Sjögren's?Sjögren's is a chronic autoimmune inflammatory disease in which people’s white blood cells attack their moisture-producing glands. However, it has also been known to cause dysfunction of other non-exocrine organs such as the kidneys, gastrointestinal system, blood vessels, lungs, liver, pancreas, and the central nervous system. While you may not have heard of Sjogren’s, you’re likely aware of world tennis star, Venus Williams, who discovered she had the disease herself in 2011.
What are the primary symptoms?Among individuals with Sjögren's, the most common symptoms include fatigue, joint pain, and dry eyes and mouth. However, since these symptoms can also point to other illnesses, Sjögren's is often misdiagnosed, or not diagnosed at all. This is such a pressing concern for medical professionals involved in diagnosing and caring for Sjögren's patients, they have made it their mission to cut the time to diagnosis in half by 2017. Currently, the diagnosis isn’t typically made until a person with Sjögren's has been suffering with symptoms for 4.7 years on average – a fact that often leads Sjögren's patients to experience complications related to the disease like cavities, oral thrush, and vision problems.
When does it develop? Can kids be affected?Sjögren's can develop at any time, affects women more commonly than men, and (while rare) can also affect children.
If I have Sjögren's, does my dentist need to know?Yes, without a doubt, your dentist plays an important role in the management of Sjögren's. They may also be the first person to suggest you see a specialist for further examination. Since Sjögren's affects the body in a variety of ways, patients often work with a team of medical professionals, including rheumatologists and ophthalmologists, who work together to help patients control this complicated illness.
For more on the importance of saliva, and how it affects your teeth and overall health, read perhaps the best article on saliva you’ll ever read in your life, on the European Food and Information Council’s website. Saliva is indeed, amazing stuff!