May is food allergy awareness month in Canada. Increasing awareness and educating adults and children alike about food allergies is key to preventing potentially life-threatening reactions. As dental care professionals, it is equally important to learn about any allergies our patients may have. This can help prevent serious reactions and improve our level of care. Read on to discover more about food allergies and their relevance to dental care.
What is a food allergy?
A food allergy occurs when the immune system views a part of a food (most often the protein) as dangerous and causes your body to react. There are two types of food allergies:
· Immunoglobulin E (IgE) mediated allergies: this type of allergy causes your body’s immune system to make antibodies called IgE and can cause a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis.
· Non-IgE mediated allergies: this type of allergy provokes reactions from other parts of the body’s immune system but does not involve the production of IgE antibodies. Usually, the symptoms are not life-threatening and commonly include gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea and vomiting.
Food allergies are a serious public health concern in Canada as they affect over 3 million Canadians. That’s approximately 7.5% of the population. In fact, food allergy is also the leading cause of anaphylactic reactions, which can be potentially life-threatening. Children are among those most impacted by food allergies.
What are the most common food allergies?
Basically, we could be allergic to any food, but some food allergies are more common than others. According to Health Canada, the most common food allergies, also known as priority food allergens, are:
- Crustaceans and molluscs
- Tree nuts
How to treat a food allergy?
Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing how severe an allergic reaction may be. There is also no known cure for food allergies. As such, it is best to avoid the allergenic food altogether. People with known food allergies often carry an EpiPen with them in case they have a severe reaction. In the event of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction, it is important to administer the epinephrine immediately and call 911.
Food allergy and the relevance for dental care
In 2019, an 11-year-old girl in California with a severe dairy allergy died after using a toothpaste recommended by her dentist. The toothpaste in question contained a milk-derived protein and caused a severe allergic reaction in the young girl. She did not respond to the epinephrine pen or inhalers.
While this is an extremely rare case, it does nonetheless highlight the importance for dentists to be aware of all their patients’ allergies. Indeed, food allergies can have dental implications. For example, patients with allergies to certain foods are more likely to be allergic to latex. These include avocados, kiwis, pineapples, and bananas. Furthermore, some dental products such as fluorides, pastes, gums, and sealant materials may also contain traces of milk, nuts, gluten, and others.
Medications are also a big issue with regard to allergies so it is very important to tell your dentist all about your past history of allergy to any medication.
Food allergies can cause severe reactions that may be life threatening
It is therefore important to always inform your dentist and hygienist of your possible allergies. On their end, dentists should carefully review their patients’ medical history. Additionally, they must review the content and ingredients of dental products. And, of course, staff should be trained to recognize anaphylaxis signs and know how to manage a medical emergency. If you have any concerns regarding allergies and dental care, please let us know. Please contact us today for an appointment.