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Why Do Some Patients with Celiac Disease Have Brown Spots on Their Teeth?

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Why Do Some Patients with Celiac Disease Have Brown Spots on Their Teeth?

Celiac disease, a chronic autoimmune condition triggered by the ingestion of gluten that affects 1-2% of the American population, presents a myriad of challenges for those affected. While many are familiar with its digestive implications, the dental manifestations that can accompany this disorder are lesser known. One such consequence is the appearance of enamel defects on the teeth. 

This article will highlight the effects of celiac disease on dental health. With this knowledge, affected individuals can proactively seek appropriate dental care to manage celiac disease holistically.


What Is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is a chronic autoimmune disorder characterized by an abnormal immune response to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. When individuals with celiac disease consume gluten, their immune system mistakenly attacks the lining of the small intestine, leading to inflammation and damage to the villi, small finger-like projections responsible for nutrient absorption. This causes symptoms like:

  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Gas 
  • Bloating 
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Nutrient malabsorption and deficiencies

Celiac disease is not limited to the digestive system. It is a systemic condition that can affect multiple organs and systems throughout the body. Extra-intestinal symptoms associated with celiac disease include: 

Celiac Disease and Dental Health

Celiac disease causes malabsorption due to damage to the lining of the small intestine caused by an immune reaction to gluten. In individuals with celiac disease, the ingestion of gluten triggers an inflammatory response that damages the small intestinal villi. This damage leads to a reduced surface area available for nutrient absorption, resulting in the malabsorption of critical nutrients, including vitamins and minerals essential for oral and dental health. 

Key nutrients for tooth mineralization and development include calcium, vitamin D, phosphorus, and magnesium. Calcium and phosphorus are the primary minerals involved in forming the hard structure of teeth, while vitamin D plays a crucial role in regulating calcium levels in the body and facilitating its absorption from the intestines. Magnesium is also involved in bone and tooth mineralization. (1, 11, 24)

In conjunction with poor nutrient status, an immune-mediated reaction affects the cells of developing teeth, resulting in the oral manifestations associated with celiac disease. Oral health complications of celiac disease include delayed dental eruption, dental enamel defects, increased risk of dental caries (cavities), and recurrent aphthous ulcers (canker sores). (12, 15

Enamel Defects: A Common Dental Manifestation

Enamel is the outermost layer of the tooth, composed primarily of crystalline calcium phosphate minerals known as hydroxyapatite, alongside small amounts of proteins and water. Enamel shields the tooth's inner layers from mechanical forces, cavities, and infection. Enamel erosion leaves the teeth vulnerable to infections and cavities.

Dental enamel defects are the most frequent dental manifestation of celiac disease and can present in primary and permanent teeth. Defects can present as discoloration, pitting, grooving, and a mottled appearance of teeth. They occur symmetrically and chronologically in all four quadrants of the mouth, most commonly affecting the upper and lower incisors and molars. 

These defects occur due to disruptions in the development and mineralization of enamel during tooth formation. The malabsorption of essential nutrients, particularly calcium and vitamin D, which are crucial for proper enamel formation, contributes to these defects. (2, 9

The Connection Between Celiac Disease and Brown Spots on Teeth

Enamel defects often result from hypoplasia, a condition characterized by incomplete or deficient enamel formation during tooth development. Yellow-brown stains on the teeth are a sign of enamel hypoplasia. 

Dental enamel hypoplasia can be seen in 40-50% of pediatric patients with celiac disease, as compared to 6% of the healthy population. It is hypothesized that calcium malabsorption, genetics, and immunological factors disrupt enamel formation during the first seven years of life, predisposing patients with celiac disease to enamel defects. (14, 20

Tooth discoloration and other indications of enamel defects are more prevalent among children diagnosed with celiac disease than among adults with the condition. This may be due to tooth development having been completed before disease onset or to adults having affected teeth treated. (20

Diagnosis and Dental Implications

Based on findings from The Canadian Celiac Health Survey, celiac disease is often undiagnosed, with an average delay in diagnosis of 11.7 years from the onset of symptoms. 

Delays in diagnosing celiac disease and initiating appropriate therapeutic interventions can have significant and potentially irreversible health consequences. Efforts to enhance celiac screening and diagnostics are crucial for public health, as early detection and intervention can prevent or mitigate these adverse outcomes, reducing the burden of disease for affected individuals. 

A large epidemiological study in Italian children found that dental enamel defects can be the only symptom of celiac disease in children. Therefore, these symptoms can be used as an effective screening tool, helping to increase early detection and diagnosis. 

Not only should healthcare providers ask patients about oral symptoms, but they should also evaluate the oral cavity and teeth during routine health exams. Dentists play a pivotal role in this process through routine dental examinations, where they can identify oral/dental abnormalities and encourage patients to seek further evaluation for celiac disease.

Any patient with dental enamel defects or recurrent canker sores (especially in the presence of other clinical symptoms of celiac disease) should be referred for celiac diagnostic testing and imaging.

Treatment and Management Strategies

Enamel cannot regenerate or reform once the tooth has fully developed. This inherent limitation underscores the significance of early diagnosis of celiac disease for dental health. If celiac disease remains undiagnosed and untreated during childhood, the enamel defects caused by malabsorption of essential nutrients can persist throughout adulthood, leading to irreversible tooth damage. Early detection of celiac disease allows for timely intervention, which typically involves the following components:

  • Strict Adherence to a Gluten-Free Diet: The cornerstone of managing celiac disease is strict adherence to a gluten-free diet. Strict gluten-free diets will not improve existing dental enamel defects. However, eliminating gluten from the diets of young children with celiac disease before their permanent teeth have fully developed can prevent the formation of additional enamel defects and mitigate the severity of existing ones. 
  • Nutritional Supplementation: In addition to dietary modifications, nutritional supplementation may be necessary to address existing nutrient deficiencies and support enamel remineralization. Calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D, and magnesium supplements may be recommended to promote healthy tooth development and strengthen enamel.

Dental interventions may be necessary to restore the appearance and function of teeth affected by enamel defects. Depending on the severity of the defects, treatment options may include:

  • Dental Sealants: Dental sealants can be applied to the surfaces of teeth to provide an extra layer of protection against decay and prevent further damage to weakened enamel.
  • Dental Bonding: For mild enamel defects, dental bonding can fill in grooves, pits, or other enamel irregularities, improving tooth appearance and surface smoothness.
  • Dental Crowns: In cases of more extensive enamel damage or structural abnormalities, dental crowns may be placed to cover and protect the affected teeth, restoring tooth aesthetics and function.
  • Teeth Whitening: Tooth discoloration caused by enamel defects may be addressed through professional tooth whitening procedures to improve tooth color.

Preventive Measures and Regular Dental Care

Individuals with celiac disease should undergo regular dental check-ups to monitor the progression of enamel defects and assess oral health status. Early detection of dental issues allows for timely intervention and prevents the development of more severe complications.

Preventive measures are essential for protecting dental health in patients with celiac disease:

  • Regular Dental Check-ups: Encourage patients with celiac disease to schedule regular dental check-ups at least every six months. These visits allow dental professionals to monitor oral health, detect enamel defects or cavities early, and provide timely interventions to prevent further damage.
  • Good Oral Hygiene Practices: Emphasize the importance of maintaining good oral hygiene habits, including brushing teeth twice daily and flossing daily, which helps remove plaque and food particles from teeth, reducing the risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
  • Smoking Cessation: Smoking causes tooth staining, gum disease, tooth loss, and mouth cancer. Patients who smoke should quit, and all patients with celiac disease should avoid the use of any tobacco-containing substances. 
  • Eat a Balanced Diet: In addition to a gluten-free diet, patients with celiac disease should be encouraged to eat foods rich in calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, and D to optimize oral health. Avoid eating sugar-laden foods, which contribute to tooth decay. (17

Raising Awareness Among Patients and Healthcare Providers

Even though oral manifestations are common in celiac disease, these symptoms are often overlooked by healthcare professionals. Increased awareness among both patients with celiac disease and healthcare providers about the potential dental manifestations of the condition ensures comprehensive care to optimize health outcomes for this population. 

Patients with celiac disease often focus primarily on managing gastrointestinal symptoms, overlooking the potential impact of the condition on dental health. Many are unaware of the increased risk of dental enamel defects, cavities, and other oral health complications associated with celiac disease. Heightened awareness among patients can empower them to prioritize dental care, seek timely intervention for oral health issues, and adopt preventive measures to preserve dental health.

Similarly, healthcare providers, including physicians, gastroenterologists, and dentists, must recognize the systemic nature of celiac disease and the importance of integrating dental health into overall management strategies. Dentists play a crucial role in the early detection and monitoring of dental manifestations of celiac disease. Increasing awareness among the healthcare community can promote collaboration and communication between medical and dental professionals, facilitating timely referrals, comprehensive evaluations, and holistic care for patients with celiac disease.


Key Takeaways

The link between celiac disease and dental health issues, such as brown spots on teeth, underscores the importance of understanding the systemic nature of the condition and its implications for oral health.

Celiac disease can lead to enamel defects and tooth discoloration due to nutrient malabsorption and autoimmune responses during tooth development.

Patients with celiac disease must maintain vigilant dental care practices and work closely with both their healthcare and dental care providers.

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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