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Ask the Dentist: Could your mouth be trying to speak to you about your iron levels?

Lucy Stock, dentist at Gentle Dental Care in Belfast, says iron deficiency, which can lead to serious health problems, leaves telltale signs in the mouth

Iron-deficiency anaemia leaves clues in our mouth such as pale gums and even a desire to chew on ice
Lucy Stock

THERE are signs in your mouth which are like mini-biological flags signalling, telling us to sit up and take notice. Take iron-deficiency anaemia, for instance; it leaves clues in our mouth, some of which are on the more bizarre end of the spectrum, like craving chewing on ice. This is called Pica and the reason why people who lack iron do this still remains a mystery.

Other signs are more understandable, like pale gums and skin. In prolonged anaemia a person's tongue may start to swell, become redder or patchy looking and even start hurting. You may suffer from unusually severe gum disease which is resistant to treatment or be plagued by recurrent mouth ulcers. Teeth may be weaker and more likely to rot.

Our red blood cells are the transport carriers of oxygen around the body. They are able to do this as they contain a substance called haemoglobin which grabs on to the oxygen that we breathe in. The crucial part is that we need iron to make haemoglobin so if we don't get enough iron our red blood cells can't do their job properly. This is why anaemic people get breathless more easily as there just isn't enough oxygen travelling around the body.

I went to give blood the other week and they rejected it as I was iron anaemic – I was very tired, dizzy and had restless legs but just put it down to being a busy, fidgety person – I misread the signs.

Left untreated, anaemia can even cause anxiety, depression and poor concentration, but on a more serious note it can damage the heart, leading to heart failure.

Anaemia can happen due to a whole host of reasons like growth spurts in adolescents, heavy periods, iron poor diets, problems with absorbing iron from the gut and many more.

If you suspect you have anaemia, a blood test will reveal your levels and then your doctor may prescribe iron tablets. Foods rich in iron are red meats, liver, beans and leafy green vegetables. Rebalancing iron levels allows the body, mind and mouth to heal.

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