Does your child have some white markings on their front teeth (decalcification)? Do they suffer from constant diarrhoea and bloating? Any abdominal pain, weight loss or constant feeling tired?  Do you have a family history of gluten intolerance (wheat products)?

Is there a relationship between these issues?

Your child may well have Coeliac Disease (CD), an “autoimmune” disorder in which the body’s normally protective “immune” system works against itself (auto=self, immune=protective/defence or resistance system). CD is actually intolerance to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, malt and sometimes oats, which is often mistaken for an allergy, but it is more than that. When a person with CD eats gluten, their immune system actually initiates an attack against parts of the lining membranes of their digestive system, essentially setting up an attack on their own body. This damages the surface of the small bowel (intestines), disrupting the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food. Untreated, CD can even cause intestinal cancer.

What to Look Out For.

This autoimmune disorder mimics many other diseases, disorders and conditions. Among the most common are Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), acid reflux, food allergies and lactose intolerance. Alternatively, CD may be present without symptoms, which makes for a more difficult diagnosis. The most common symptoms of CD in children are diarrhoea, bloating, tummy aches, fatigue, growth abnormalities, vitamin deficiencies and skin irritations. Now that more children and adults are being diagnosed with and treated for CD, there has been clear documentation of oral manifestations, the most common being dental enamel defects. These imperfections are generally symmetrical in nature and include spots or pitting of the enamel. Loss of the shiny enamel layer in the developmental grooves of the central incisors is another possible consequence of CD. The grooves then appear a bit chalky or opaque-like — what dentists call decalcification, a loss of surface enamel crystals. The teeth may also show white, yellow or even brown spots and eruption may also be delayed. Aphthous ulcers (canker sores) are also strongly associated with CD. Diagnosis CD often goes undiagnosed or mis-diagnosed for years. Dentists, who previously were unaware of these relatively new findings, can now use them, coupled with a suggestive medical history, to diagnose CD or other related conditions properly.

What Can Be Done

Treatment of CD has been and remains strictly dietary: “Eat Gluten Free!” This sounds pretty straightforward, but in today’s world of fast food, pizza, biscuits and other treats, it can be a trying diet — simple to say but not so simple to follow, particularly for children. Luckily the world is becoming more GF-educated and tolerant. For example, more and more companies are making and distributing gluten-free (GF) products, many manufacturers are labelling products more clearly and some restaurants are even providing GF menu items. CD kids must maintain a GF diet to stay healthy and avoid the adverse consequences. Several institutions in CD-related research are working on the development of medication to counteract the adverse effects of gluten and allow CD intolerant persons to consume gluten once again. As for the dental treatment, CD patients, particularly kids, should be treated the same as all other patients, but with a few precautions. For example, the ingredients in polishing paste and fluoride gel should be verified for absence of gluten. Treatment of the tooth enamel defects associated with CD can be successfully treated cosmetically.

You May Just Change Your Child’s Life

In today’s age, dentists taking very thorough medical histories and spending the necessary time talking to and examining their patients, can uncover links between dental and dietary related problems that previously may have gone undiagnosed. If you are suspicious, go and see your dentist and/or doctor to consider exploring a CD diagnosis. You may change or even save your child’s life