If You Notice This in Your Mouth, Get Your Kidneys Checked

You'd never guess these two conditions would be related.

Chronic kidney disease often has no visible symptoms, and many of the symptoms that do arise are not specific to kidney disease alone—making a diagnosis even more elusive. In these cases, doctors and patients are left with a patchwork of ambiguous symptoms to analyze: fatigue, difficulty sleeping, itchy skin, frequent urination, or blood in urine, to name a few. Now experts say there's a lesser known symptom that those with kidney problems may experience—and you may notice it in your mouth. They say there's a "two-way link" between kidney disease and this oral health problem, and that letting either go unchecked could greatly exacerbate the other. Read on to find out which kidney symptom you may notice in your mouth, and which other oral symptoms can signal kidney disease.

RELATED: If You Notice This on Your Skin, Get Your Kidneys Checked, Experts Warn.

If you develop frequent dental cavities and gum infections, it may be due to kidney problems.

Woman with cavity pain

Though not one of its better known symptoms, those with kidney disease are more prone to developing frequent dental cavities and gum infections. "There's a two-way link between long-term kidney disease and severe gum problems. Chronic kidney disease can lead to poor bone health, heart disease, and high blood pressure, all of which have a connection to gum disease," explains the health information site Health Grades.

Experts from the British health charity National Kidney Federation add that chronic kidney disease can affect the quantity and contents of one's saliva, leading to increased likelihood of oral infection. "Dental decay is due to destruction of the tooth substance by acids produced by dental plaque. Individuals with renal disease may be at increased risk of tooth decay as a consequence of a lack of saliva (as saliva helps neutralize the acids of dental plaque)," their experts explain.

RELATED: If Your Food Tastes Like This, Get Your Kidneys Checked.

Poor dental health can also worsen kidney disease.

Senior man with a painful back-kidney on a medical exam.

Just as your kidneys can affect your teeth, your teeth can affect your kidneys in return. "Good dental care is important for everyone, but especially for people with kidney disease. What might be a minor infection for a healthy person could be a major problem for someone with kidney disease," explains the National Kidney Foundation.

When germs infect the mouth, the body fights back with inflammation. In the short term, this is a good thing: It means the body is tackling the problem head on by delivering white blood cells to the affected area. However, in the event of longer term infection—as in the case of a tooth or gum infection—continuous inflammation can be harmful to the organs.

The National Kidney Foundation adds that germs from oral infection can spread throughout the body, especially if your immune system is weak. "Infections can be serious, even resulting in hospitalizations," the Foundation states on its site. "Be sure to tell your dentist you have kidney disease, are on dialysis or are a kidney transplant recipient," they add.

You may experience these other oral health symptoms.

Man having dental work done

Besides experiencing more frequent cavities or gum disease, experts say there are several other oral health symptoms which can result from kidney disease. According to the National Kidney Federation, these may include enlarged gums, dry mouth, a bad taste in your mouth, fungal infections of the mouth, ulcers, white patches, or viral infections. If your dentist is unable to determine the underlying cause for these symptoms, talk to your doctor to discuss the full range of possibilities.

For more health news sent directly to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Take these steps toward good oral hygiene.

older white woman brushing her teeth in the mirror

Because your oral health can impact your kidney health—not to mention to your heart health, neurological health, and more—it's especially important to practice excellent dental hygiene. The National Kidney Foundation recommends brushing twice daily with a soft bristle brush and fluoridated toothpaste, as well as flossing once per day. Additionally, you should see your dentist for regular exams, and clean dentures thoroughly if you wear them.

If you believe the source of your problem is a lack of saliva resulting from kidney disease, trying chewing sugarless gum, sucking on sugarless candy, or drinking regular sips of water throughout the day—all of which can help stimulate an increase in saliva production. Saliva substitutes and saliva-stimulating mouthwashes are also available, and can help "remove bacteria that cause decay and gum disease."

Speak with your doctor and dentist if you believe your tooth and gum problems could be the result of kidney disease or any other chronic condition.

RELATED: If You Notice This on Your Fingers, Have Your Kidneys Checked, Experts Warn.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
Filed Under