Dental Effects of Celiac Disease

According to the Mayo Clinic, one in 141 Americans living in the U.S. has celiac disease. It is believed, however, that as many as an additional two million people have it but are not diagnosed. It is also a condition that is more prevalent in Caucasians than any other race in the U.S. and more common in women than in men. Understanding the condition is key to controlling the symptoms and living a normal life. For this reason, people diagnosed with the condition or who have children affected by it should educate themselves on what it is and what to expect.

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is a type of chronic digestive disorder in which a person’s body is unable to tolerate a protein called gluten. This protein is found in wheat, oats, rye, and barley. When ingested, the gluten causes an immune response that results in the destruction of small protrusions that are located in the small intestine. The protrusions, called villi, allow the intestine to absorb nutrients that the body needs from the foods that are being digested. Because of the destruction of the villi, nutrients are unable to be successfully digested and a person can suffer from malnutrition.


Although celiac disease is a condition that affects both children and adults, the symptoms often manifest differently according to which category a person falls into. Young children often experience symptoms associated with digestive difficulties, such as vomiting, abdominal bloating, and weight loss. Bowel-related symptoms include stools with a strong, foul odor, chronic diarrhea or constipation, and fatty stools. Additionally, sufferers may seem more irritable as a result. Signs of malnutrition due to celiac disease in infants and young children may include stunted or delayed growth, late puberty, and dental defects in permanent teeth.

As adults, people who develop celiac disease will tend to have fewer digestive symptoms. Common symptoms for adults include feelings of depression, fatigue, and anxiety. They may suffer from iron-deficiency anemia that cannot be easily explained, arthritis, osteoporosis, itchy skin, and canker sores. Women may experience missed periods or infertility or may be more susceptible to miscarriage. Dermatitis herpetiformis is a skin rash that is also associated with the disease.


Although there is a greater risk of celiac disease in people who have close family members affected by it, researchers have yet to determine what the exact cause is. According to the Mayo Clinic, a certain gene mutation may increase an individual’s risk of getting the disease; however, having this mutation does not mean that a person will develop the condition. Certain health conditions may also increase a person’s risk, including arthritis, Down syndrome, type 1 diabetes, neuropathy, and Sjogren’s disease. Medical professionals do know that there are certain things that trigger the condition. In women, pregnancy and/or childbirth has been known to trigger celiac disease. In both men and women, triggers may include surgery, viral infection, or stress.


Celiac disease can be treated in only one way, and that is to eliminate gluten from the diet. Because there is no cure, a gluten-free diet must be adhered to for the remainder of the individual’s life to prevent further damage to the small intestine. Fortunately, there are increasing options in terms of replacing gluten in cooking. For example, a person may find or bake breads made with potato or soy flour as opposed to traditional flour that contains gluten. In severe cases where gluten has caused excessive damage to a person’s villi, a gluten-free diet may not be enough or effective. In these cases, it may be necessary receive nutrition intravenously.

Dental Effects

The state of one’s teeth can often alert dentists and physicians to the presence of celiac disease, as it often causes certain dental abnormalities. In some instances, this may be the only indication that a person has the disorder. The condition may damage the enamel of the teeth, causing grooves, bands, or pits to appear. The teeth may be discolored with brown or yellow spots or have a translucent appearance. There may also be some deformity in the shape of the teeth in some severe cases. These abnormalities commonly appear when children develop the disease as their permanent teeth are developing.

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