Cheilitis -- Causes and Cures
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Cheilitis -- Causes and Cures

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June 6, 2012
By ALISON TURNER, Contributing Columnist

Do you have cuts in the corners of your mouth? Or swollen lips, full and inflamed, with redness and fissures spreading from angles in the mouth. If you or someone you know has the latter type of "full" lips, or cuts in the corners of your lips then you may have cheilitis,  a condition that the Dental, Oral, and Craniofacial Data Resource Center (DRC) says is experienced by 2.5% of the U.S. adult population in their 2002 report.  

Cheilitis may be uncomfortable physically and aesthetically, but it may also have more serious health consequences. 

It could mean cancer. A 2010 study from experts at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston found that the presence of some types of cheilitis "doubles the risk of squamous cell carcinoma"  - which is all the more reason to diagnose and treat cheilitis as soon as possible.  Are there any natural remedies that work for cheilitis? Do cuts in the corner of your mouth mean you have a vitamin deficiency of some sort?

What Causes Cheilitis?

Cheilitis can be caused by many culprits, including infections, nutritional deficiencies, allergies, chapping, reactions to medications, and even immunosuppression from AIDS or other diseases.  

How Can You Handle Cheilitis? 

Physicians treat cheilitis with various methods, including photodynamic therapy,  and/or various oral and topical drugs.   However, there are lifestyle choices you can make that may either prevent cheilitis in the first place, or help to treat it without such serious measures. 

Here is a list of ten natural causes and treatments of cheilitis that are backed up by recent studies from experts from all over the world: 

1.  Stay Out of  the Sun If  You Have Cuts in Corners of Your Mouth.  For those of us who love beaches and endless hours under the sun, but would rather not have cuts in the corners of your lips or inflamed lips, we may have to decide between the two. 

In 2012, researchers from Brazil found that regular and frequent exposure to UV radiation from the sun may be linked to cases of a particular kind of cheilitis, known as actinic cheilitis.  In actinic cheilitis, the lower lip becomes puffy and blotchy, with occasional white plaques, and ulcers.  

The study, conducted jointly by researchers from the State University of Rio Grande do Norte in Caico, and the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Natal, examined  workers at urban beaches in the Northeastern part of Brazil. 

Examinations of 362 beach workers showed that 15.5% exhibited actinic cheilitis. 

Most of those with cheilitis were men (86%), and 37 years old or older (61%).

Surprisingly,  nearly 90% of the beach workers with cheilitis actually used sun protection.  The team concludes that "special attention should be given to individuals chronically exposed to UV radiation," and particularly recommends the institutionalized education for the prevention and cures of cheilitis. 

There's no way around it -- if you have cheilitis, you have to avoid beach days or tanning salons.  If this is not an option for you (if, by chance, you happen to work on  beach with equally high doses of sun as the beaches in Brazil), there are surgical options to remove any white patches that have developed or even, in extreme cases, complete removal of the lip mucosa.

2.  Is Brushing My Teeth…Bad?  Most of us, by now, have the whole brush-the-teeth chore solidly engrained in our daily routines.  However, researchers in Israel may have discovered a legitimate excuse to not brush our teeth: an allergic reaction to toothpaste may cause cheilitis.

In 2009, Yaron Lavy and colleagues with the Departments of Dermatology at Hadassah University Hospital, in Jerusalem,  compared the rate of allergies to toothpaste in patients with and without  cheilitis, using a patch test kit involving eleven different substances that are commonly found in toothpaste. 

In all, 44 participants, 24 with cheilitis and 20 without, were tested for allergic reactions to all 11 substances.  45% of participants with cheilitis were allergic to toothpaste, compared to only one patient (5%) amongst patients without cheilitis. 

The team concludes that the rate of toothpaste allergy amongst people with cheilitis might be "higher than previously reported." 

In lieu of ceasing all toothpaste-related activity (which could, not surprisingly, lead to other issues), if you have cheilitis, consider switching the kind of toothpaste that you use.  Many popular brands of toothpastes are flavored: try looking for a paste without any flavoring, to start.

3.  Eat More Iron to Reduce Cuts in the Corners of Your Lips.  What does iron, fissures on the lips, and the relationship with our children have in common? 

Perhaps more than you ever thought: iron deficiency may not only produce symptoms of cheilitis, but could also jeopardize the relationship between mothers and new infants. 

When you are deficient in iron we do not build enough red blood cells, resulting in a condition called iron deficiency anemia, the most common form of anemia. 

This could happen for several reasons, including an unusual loss of blood, an inability to absorb iron, a lack of iron entering the body, or a condition that requires more iron than normal (such as pregnancy or breastfeeding). 

Symptoms of iron deficient anemia include feeling grumpy, feeling weaker than usual, headaches, problems concentrating, and, as the anemia worsens, brittle nails, pale skin color, shortness of breath , and angular cheilitis.  

Iron deficient anemia is more common than it should be, considering that in most cases the condition can be alleviated with dietary changes (see below). 

4. I Always Suspected the Orthodontist was Evil…..  None of us particularly enjoys fingers and metal and machines in our mouths - but sometimes orthodontic work is well worth it for a straight, symmetrical smile. 

Then again, the perfect smile the orthodontist gives us may come at a price (that is, one beyond the thousands of dollars we've given to the orthodontist) --- orthodontic treatment may be the cause of angular cheilitis, a type of cheilitis wherein fissures radiation from the angles of the mouth.  

In 2008, David Cross and Laura Short with Glasgow University in the UK  reported that angular cheilitis can, indeed "occur during orthodontic treatment and may persist into retention." 

They also report that the "incidence of the condition is unknown."

Perhaps the data is not quite there yet for you to swear off the orthodontist for the sake of a healthy mouth without swollen lips and fissures.  Nevertheless, if you are undergoing orthodontic work and have cheilitis, they may not be as unrelated as you'd hope.

5. Eat Your Beef Liver!  A delicacy for some, a nightmare for others, beef liver also happens to contain as much as 800 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin B12:  such a boost in B12 may be just what you need if you have cheilitis.

B12 is a water soluble vitamin that we need every day, and that is stored in the liver (hence its high concentration in beef liver).  B12 vitamin serves many roles for our bodies, including the maintenance of the nervous system, the production of DNA, and the formation of red blood cells. 

Symptoms of B12 deficiency include muscle weakness, fatigue, incontinence, low blood pressure, shakiness, depression, and cognitive problems such as poor memory.  A more serious lack of B12 can result in anemia.  

In 2009, researchers from Brazil reported that B12 deficiency can also manifest orally, with symptoms of cheilitis.  

The authors include Professors of oral and maxilofacial pathology, and oral and maxilofacial surgeons, and were led by Dr. Hélder Pontes with the Dental School of the Federal University of Pará. 

The team studied how megaloblastic anemia, a type of anemia that often arises from a lack of B12.  The team reports that in addition to the symptoms of B12 deficiency listed above, oral manifestations include glositis, recurrent oral ulcer, oral mucosa, and cheilitis. 

The team describes the case of a patient with megaloblastic anemia and B12 deficiency.  They prescribed treatments of daily doses of supplemental B12 and, just in case supplements weren't cutting it, asked the patient to modify her diet: that is, the patient was prescribed a daily dose of beef liver. 

After 14 days of this new treatment and diet, all oral symptoms disappeared.  The authors emphasize the importance of early diagnosis of B12 deficiency and/or megaloblastic anemia from these indications such as cheilitis, in order to prevent "neurological signs, which could be irreversible."

Vitamin B12 deficiency is often associated with strict vegetarians; however, some people's bodies do not properly absorb the vitamin.  If you want to make sure you're getting enough B12, shoot for at least 2.4 micrograms a day, and more if you are pregnant or mursing: a three ounce slice of beef liver provides about 48 micrograms  of B12.  In addition to liver, B12 rich foods include red meats, turkey, and some dairy products such as eggs.

6.  Watch Out for Propolis in Your Products. 

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