The immune system operates very much like an army. Certain cells form a command post to direct the activities of the soldier cells. Two types of troops are mobilized: killer T cells and antibodies. These go into action depending upon the type of invader that is mounting an attack on your body. Killer T cells are employed to fight against viruses. Viruses penetrate and hide inside your body cells so the cells in which they are residing need to be destroyed. If the invaders are bacteria, the antibodies go into action. Bacteria do not invade cells but instead stay outside. The antibodies surround, immobilize and destroy the bacteria.
The immune system also has a sophisticated data collection system. Special cells remember past invasions so if the same micro organism invades a second or third time, these memory cells enable the immune system to respond faster and with greater force. All of these wars wage continually within our bodies without our knowledge. The only time we become aware of the battle is when the immune system begins to lose. However, this system sometimes malfunctions and mounts an offensive against our own body cells, mistaking them for foreign invaders. When this happens, the result is called an autoimmune disease.
Autoimmune diseases can strike anywhere in the body. There are three that occur in the mouth. One of these is pemphigold. Pemphigold produces large blisters in the mouth. The second disease pemphigus creates blisters in the mouth and on the skin. They usually begin in the mouth however it is also possible that they will stay in the mouth and not migrate to the skin. These blisters burst easily and then scab over. These can very easily become infected. If they are ignored and not treated promptly, they will spread to the skin and can even be fatal. Neither pemphigold nor pemphigus is a common disease.
When a patient appears to have either one of these diseases, the dentist will extract a small section of the blister for study under a microscope. Both diseases are treated with corticosteroid drugs. The dentist may also prescribe medications to suppress the immune system. And if the blisters are infected, the dentist might also administer anti-biotics.
The third autoimmune disease that occurs in the mouth is erythema multiforme. Again, this is not a common illness, occurring in a very small percentage of the population. When it does strike, it usually affects young adults, men in particular. Both blisters and ulcers appear in the mouth and may even spread to the lips. The onset of the disease takes place rapidly. Fifty percent of the patients also develop a skin rash. There is a more severe form of the disease in which the sores may spread to other parts of the body. About a week prior to the outbreak of the sores, the patient will experience some symptoms that resemble flu such as fever, cough, sore throat and a headache. The sores may last from two to six weeks. Mild forms of the illness usually subside without treatment. Serious outbreaks are treated with corticosteroids.