Can food allergies affect your oral health?

A food allergy is a heightened response by your immune system to a certain food. While some allergic reactions can be mild, others can be life-threatening. It’s important to check with your physician if you think you or your child has an allergy.

Food allergies have increased considerably in recent decades. Approximately one in 10 Americans has a food allergy, according to Food Allergy Research and Education, so it’s more important than ever to know how you or a loved one with a food allergy can maintain a healthy mouth. These allergies can not only be dangerous, they can also have consequences for your oral health.

What are common oral symptoms of food allergies?

Many of the symptoms of food allergies occur in and around the mouth, including:

• Itching and tingling sensations

• Swollen lips, face and tongue

• Swollen throat

• Difficulty breathing

• Burning sensation

• Metallic taste

• Scratchy throat

What foods tend to cause allergic reactions?

More than 170 foods have been reported to cause allergic reactions. However, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, just eight foods account for 90% of the reactions experienced by people in the United States. 1

• Fish

• Shellfish

• Peanuts

• Tree nuts

• Eggs

• Cow’s milk

• Wheat

• Soy

Can food allergies be caused by pollen?

If you’re allergic to birch, ragweed or grass pollens, you can develop a cross-reaction to certain foods. These allergies usually trigger more mild responses, such as an itching sensation in the mouth.

This condition is called oral allergy syndrome (OAS) or pollen-food allergy syndrome. If you’re allergic to pollen, OAS may be activated by eating certain nuts, spices and tooth-friendly raw fruits and vegetables. That’s because the proteins in these foods are similar to the allergy-causing proteins in pollen.

When checking in with your doctor, be sure to discuss how pollen allergies can also influence reactions to food. There are other conditions that can cause similar symptoms to allergies, so your doctor will consider other possible causes, perform appropriate tests to arrive at a diagnosis and provide a plan on managing allergic reactions.

How do food allergies cause oral health issues?

Surprisingly, minor food allergies can more frequently lead to oral issues than major ones do. Where severe reactions are best managed by recognizing signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction, using epinephrine and getting medical care, minor allergies may be treated with antihistamines. Antihistamines can cause dry mouth, which may result in tooth decay. It’s important to drink plenty of water when taking antihistamines.

Additionally, the best way to prevent an allergic reaction is to stop eating the foods the cause the response. Some foods can be eliminated with no consequences, but other eliminations may deprive you of vitamins and minerals that are vital for a healthy smile.

Here are some common allergens and what you can replace them with. The proper replacements ensure that you can get the vitamins and minerals you need to maintain your oral health.

• Cow’s milk: Cow’s milk provides teeth-strengthening calcium and vitamin D. Dark green leafy vegetables like broccoli and spinach are excellent sources of calcium, as are non-dairy milks that have been fortified with calcium. Vitamin D can be found in fatty fish such as salmon and egg yolks, as well as vitamin D-fortified orange juice and breakfast cereals.

• Shellfish, peanuts and eggs: Shellfish, peanuts and eggs provide phosphorus, which helps protect tooth enamel. You can find phosphorus in lean cuts of beef pork and poultry as well as beans, lentils, soy and whole grains.

• Raw fruits and vegetables: Many fruits and vegetables provide vitamin C, which is essential for keeping teeth and gums healthy. You can try eating fruits and veggies that don’t cause a reaction. Green leafy vegetables, strawberries and kiwis are good alternatives to citrus fruit. You can also try eating peeled fruits and vegetables, as the allergy-causing proteins tend to be in the skin, or cooking fruits and vegetables to break down the proteins that cause allergic reactions.

Make sure to let your dentist know if you have any allergies, are suffering from adverse side effects or are taking any medications.

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