Frowning set of teeth with silver caps, antibiotic pills, toothbrush, and toothpaste

How Can CF Affect Oral Health?

It’s been ingrained into us since early childhood and the days of blue bubblegum toothpaste how important it is to take care of your oral health by brushing and flossing regularly. Oral health is connected to overall health which is so very important for someone living with CF.1 Healthy gums, cavity-free teeth, and minty-fresh breath are just as important as receiving healthy marks within the body. However, how does having CF affect our oral health? What are the symptoms and warning signs that something might be off? Let’s find out!

Oral health issues with CF

Tooth enamel defects

There’s research on oral health and CF that suggests the Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Regulator (CFTR) may have an impact on the formation of enamel or the hard outside coating that protects your teeth.1,2 Lack of tooth enamel can lead to serious tooth decay and discoloration in the long run.1 It’s best to treat enamel defects as early and aggressively as possible to save the integrity of your teeth.

Before I was diagnosed with CF in early childhood, I had silver caps put on some of my teeth with enamel defects. My family wasn’t aware it was a possible complication of CF at the time. My adult teeth, in fact, had enamel but I am definitely glad my mom got me the dental care I needed at the time.

Risk of cavities

Due to the unique diet of many people with CF--high calorie, fatty, and often sugary foods--you might assume that there’s a higher risk of cavities. The research shows that may or may not be true. Children with CF show lower rates of cavities than controls.3 While adolescents and adults have about the same risk as the general population.3

One thought is that the use of antibiotics, such as azithromycin, and pancreatic enzymes may help break down the biofilms that form cavities and decay on the teeth.3 This might be the first time a side effect for a long-term drug is beneficial for the CF community! That doesn't mean you can skip proper brushing and flossing and bi-annual teeth cleaning that is recommended for all people living with CF.3

Growth of oral thrush

A fungal infection called thrush, or an overgrowth of a yeast Candida albicans, is also a very common oral complication in CF.4 Oral thrush infection creates a white thick, fuzzy coating on your tongue and throat.5 Thrush can make your mouth feel dry and cause a sore tongue and discomfort swallowing. Inhaled steroids, CFRD, and lifelong antibiotic treatment are all risk factors for oral thrush.5 Thrush is really no fun, but thankfully easily treated by oral anti-fungals like Fluconazole and nystatin.5

Overall, cystic fibrosis can play a minor role in an individual's oral health, but with proper care, it's really no big deal, just something to keep an eye on.

How has CF affected your oral health? Share with us below!

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