Anyone experiencing sudden patches of hair loss could benefit from a trip to the dentist – according to university research.
Alopecia areata, which affects millions in the UK, is an auto-immune disorder where the body produces antibodies that attack the hair follicles.
The hair loss is often in small patches, which are sometimes barely noticeable. But if these patches join up they can become more obvious and lead to anxiety and loss of self confidence.
Also known as localised alopecia, it is estimated to plague around 65,000 people in the UK and can appear at any age – with 80 per cent of cases surfacing before the age of 40.
Stress is thought to be one one potential trigger, but it appears tooth infections could also be a cause according to research carried out by the University of Granada in Spain.
Lead authors Professor Jose Antonio Gil Montoya and Professor Antonio Cutando Soriano said: “We have found that bald patches caused by tooth infection are not always in the same place.
“They normally appear on a line projected from the dental infection and can thus can be located on the face at the level of the maxillary (upper jaw) teeth, above a line through the lip-angle to the scalp, beard, or even to the eyebrow.
“Nevertheless, they can also be located far from infection outbreak.”
Millions of people had their regular dental check-ups delayed and even cancelled due to Government’s strict Covid-19 social distancing measures brought in at the end of March.
While these rules have eased in recent months, the backlog faced by dentists means many mouths will not get a once-over for a while yet.
But for anyone experiencing hair loss, an appointment with the dentist could be a good idea.
Leading UK hair restoration surgeon Dr Bessam Farjo, co-founder of the Farjo Hair Institute in Manchester and London, said: “Localised alopecia starts with bald patches on the scalp, but can also appear elsewhere on the body.
“Research has suggested a link to alopecia areata and dental infections. So if you are experiencing this type of hair loss it would be worthwhile getting checked out by a dentist to make sure your oral health is not a contributing factor.”
In some cases alopecia areata can lead to total hair loss on the scalp (alopecia totalis) – which famously affected former Happy Mondays singer Shaun Ryder – or even complete loss of hair from the body (alopecia universalis).
But the good news is that it does not cause permanent damage to the hair follicles and in most cases it clears up by itself.
Dr Farjo added: “Patients suffering with alopecia areata can be treated with steroids or topical lotions such as Minoxidil.
“Because of the nature of the condition, a hair transplant is not recommended because the follicles removed from the back of the head and moved to the affected areas would be likely to be attacked in the same way as the previous ones.”