Last week at the Chattanooga Area Dental Society meeting Dr. Marc Cromie from the Chattanooga Allergy Clinic spoke to us. It was very interesting to hear him talk about allergies and how it affects us here in Chattanooga. We live in the Tennessee Valley where it ranks #2 in the world for high pollen count. #1 and 3 are in China, and #4 is Knoxville.
Trees are the main cause of allergies in the springtime. The trees send out heavy pollen, and we can look forward to our cars having that yellow dust on them soon. Many call Chattanooga the allergy capital of the United States, and it is for good reason due to the mountains and valleys and a wide variety of trees that emit pollen we have a perfect storm so to speak of allergy irritants. A high pollen count is considered anything above 120, that is 120 parts of pollen in a 3×3 foot cube of air. In Chattanooga, we routinely hit 9000!!! It is common to see 3000 and 1800. It is so thick you can actually see it.
Why Do We Get Seasonal Allergies?
While there are plenty of allergens that can make us sneeze year round, such as dust and pet dander, seasonal allergies typically flare up twice a year: in the spring and the fall. This can mean long months of congestion, an itchy nose, mouth, eyes, or throat, puffy eyes, sneezing, and coughing for people with allergies.
The reason our allergies act up during the spring in Chattanooga is because of the trees. Then we go to grass in the summer as the major source of allergy problems. In Chattanooga, we get a final season of ragweed! Mold will also send out spores around the same time. Allergic reactions, including seasonal allergies, are the result of our immune systems going into overdrive in response to these allergens.
Allergies Versus Oral Health
While allergies can result in tingly or swollen lips, mouth, or tongue and irritated gums, the most common way seasonal allergies can become a problem for oral health is dry mouth. Whenever we have congestion, we end up breathing through our mouths instead of our noses, which dries up our saliva. Having dry mouth presents a serious threat to oral health because saliva is the mouth’s first line of defense against gum disease and tooth decay.
Todd Levin, an MD double board-certified allergist in Chattanooga, says, “I look in everyone’s mouth it is part of my exam routine. Bad allergies can show a cobblestone appearance on the posterior pharynx, and you can see a mucus ring in the posterior region of the oral cavity. I often spot decay and refer them to a dentist. I don’t do a full dental exam like Dr. McOmie would do in his office, but I do try to find decay if it is obvious.”
One of the main causes of dry mouth is the medication for allergies. Sudafed specifically! Sudafed is great for drying up our noses and sinus, but it also makes our mouths dry. Many people are on a medication or two that cause dry mouth already, and when they add in some Sudafed, it can make their dry mouth downright unbearable.
“All antihistamines have anticholinergic (cause dry mouth) effects to some degree. The older ones like Benedryl and Zyrtec cause more dry mouth then the newer generation drugs.” Says Dr. Levin
The high pollen count can also trigger asthma. Steroid inhalers used to treat asthma can cause an imbalance in our mouths. This can lead to an overgrowth of yeast and give a condition known commonly as “Thrush.” “In my patients that use steroid inhalers, I recommend brushing your teeth immediately AFTER the inhaler is used. If you can’t brush immediately then eating or drinking can help prevent thrush from occurring.” Symptoms of thrush are things like white appearance and a burning mouth. We have simple treatments for thrush let us know immediately if you have any of the symptoms. Catching it early can help it go away sooner.
A good sinus infection can mimic the symptoms of a toothache. When pollen counts are high we see many people for toothaches only to find they really have a sinus infection. The opposite can be true as well, you could think you have a sinus infection, and it can really be an abscessed tooth!
Sinus infections are caused by bacteria and viruses, not pollen directly. Pollen, molds and other allergens can help us get sinus infection by providing an environment that is favorable to the bacteria and viruses. Such as a clogged nose, or a stuffy head, then bacteria can set up shop and grow colonies and next thing you know you have a full on sinus infection.
What Can Be Done About Allergies
Because the most prominent allergens in Chattanooga are airborne (such as pollen, and mold spores), avoiding allergic reactions can be difficult, but there are a few things you can do.
- It is best to stay indoors when pollen counts are out of this world in our beautiful city. Trying to limit our time outside when the pollen count is above 120. You should also wear a pollen mask while doing yard work, and avoid using window fans that could blow pollen and spores into your house.
- If you are prone to allergens, take some preventive medicine such as Allegra, Zyzal, Zyrtec. These medications are now over the counter and are considered non-drowsy formulas. Sudafed can help dry up a runny nose and prevent a sinus infection by not keeping such a great environment for those bad bacteria and viruses. Make sure you also take the anti-allergy medications your doctor or allergist recommends to minimize your congestion.
- Staying hydrated will help keep you from getting dry mouth. As the weather heats up, it is easy to find yourself dehydrated this time of year. Also chewing some sugar-free gum containing xylitol will help keep your mouth moist and anti-cavity saliva flowing.
Fighting Back Against Allergies Together!
If you’re experiencing dry mouth, whether as a side-effect of seasonal allergies or for any other reason, don’t hesitate to come see us! Your oral health is our top priority, and together we can come up with a plan to keep your mouth healthy until the allergies end and beyond!