Wimbledon Tennis Finalist Venus Williams Has Sjogren’s Syndrome

On Saturday July 15, 2017,  U.S. tennis star, 37 year-old Venus Williams lost in the finals of the Women’s Wimbledon Tennis Championship to 23-year old Garbine Muguruza of Spain.  Williams was the oldest Wimbledon finalist since 1994 when Martina Navratilova was also a runner-up  at the same age.  In a young women’s sport, Venus is showing amazing ability, talent and energy, especially considering that she has Sjogren’s Syndrome.

Venus’s last Grand Slam final was in 2009, over seven years ago.  Later that year in 2009, Venus Williams, at age 31, pulled out of the U.S. Open after having suffered joint pain, hand swelling, numbness, fatigue, dry eyes and a dry mouth.   She had an overall feeling of being “beat up.”  Venus was finally diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome, a little-known autoimmune disorder.

Sjogren’s (pronounced SHOW-grins) is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed.  In 2005, Venus Williams was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma after having trouble breathing and was given medication that didn’t work.  She had been struggling with unclear symptoms until 2009 when it was determined that she had Sjogren’s.  At that time on Good Morning America, Williams discussed her experience with Sjorgren’s and cited the disease as the reason she pulled out of the U.S. Open. She also said that she was “thankful to finally have a diagnosis”.

What is Sjorgren’s Syndrome?

Sjogren’s Syndrome [SS] is a chronic disorder in which white blood cells target the body’s moisture-producing glands. Its hallmark symptoms are dry eyes and dry mouth, but Sjogren’s patients also often experience extreme fatigue and joint pain and sometimes problems with other organs or the central nervous system. People with Sjogren’s also have a higher risk of developing lymphoma, particularly in the salivary glands. The condition is named after Henry Sjogren, a Swedish ophthalmologist, who first described the primary clinical features of this disorder in 1933.

Two distinct forms of Sjogren’s syndrome have been recognized:

Primary Sjogren’s syndrome – defined as dry eye and dry mouth that occur by themselves and are not associated with another autoimmune disorder. Primary Sjogren’s syndrome occurs in approximately 50% of cases according to the Sjogren’s Foundation of America.

Secondary Sjogren’s syndrome – characterized by dry eye and dry mouth that occurs in the presence of a major underlying autoimmune connective tissue disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, or scleroderma.

It has been estimated that up to 4 million Americans are afflicted with Sjogren’s syndrome.  However, because the disorder is difficult to diagnose, the incidence of the disease may be considerably higher.  Sjogren’s syndrome affects predominately women rather than men by a ratio of 9:1; however, the symptoms in males and females are the same.

The typical patient is a Caucasian female, usually of Northern European ancestry.  Symptoms of the disorder most often begin between the ages of 40-60, predominantly in post menopausal women, but are also seen in young women in their 20s and 30s. The average age of onset is 52 years old. Venus Williams is an example of the range of exceptions.   However, SS is probably under diagnosed particularly in black women, who often are misdiagnosed with lupus. On average it takes a person six to seven years to be diagnosed with SS, as symptoms are often mistaken for depression, menopause, even hypochondria.


There is no known cure for Sjögren’s syndrome, nor is there a treatment to restore secretion of moisture by the glands. For the most part, treatment is designed to help relieve symptoms.  Severity of symptoms varies greatly.  Some patients’ lives have minimal impact from the disease beyond eye and mouth dryness; others develop more serious complications. Others have to learn to cope with chronic pain and fatigue.

Dry eyes

The drying effect on eyes from SS varies and includes:

  • Eye redness, itching, and burning
  • Photosensitivity and glare
  • Blurred vision
  • Conjunctival infection
  • Corneal ulceration
  • Blindness

Dry eyes can usually treated with teardrops when only moisture is needed.  But other treatment options are sometimes necessary to manage dry eye symptoms that worsen, including, methylcellulose inserts, eye ointments, medications, and even surgery.

Dry Mouth

Dryness of the mouth results from an inadequate flow of saliva. Saliva coats and lubricates tissues in the mouth.  Saliva helps cleanse the mouth and begins the digestive process with chewing.   Drying irritates the soft tissues in the mouth, which can make them inflamed and more susceptible to infection.  Severe dry mouth can promote the growth of harmful organisms. Oral candidiasis, a fungal infection, has been reported to occur in up to 80% of SS patients. Without the cleansing and shielding effects of adequate salivary flow, caries [tooth decay] and periodontal [gum] disease become common problems.  Constant dryness and the lack of protection provided by saliva contribute to bad breath.dry_mouth

Often SS patients experience changes and reduction in taste, as well as, burning sensation in the mouth.  Dry mouth can cause difficulties in chewing, swallowing and speaking.  Dry mouth also causes dentures to become less comfortable because there is no thin film of saliva to help them adhere properly to oral tissues.

There are numerous saliva substitutes on the market that can be prescribed, but artificial saliva is not a perfect substitute for natural saliva, which is complex physically and chemically.  Most patients prefer sipping water to using a saliva substitute, since artificial saliva’s benefits are short lived.  Not only is water sipping the most cost-effective means of improving oral moisture in the short-term, it has the added advantage of contributing to improved hydration.  Sipping water continually during the day using a water bottle with a straw-type top is ideal.

Using saliva stimulants, such as, chewing sugar-free gum [Gum sweetened with xylitol has been shown to reduce cavities] and sucking on sugar-free candy can be helpful for increasing saliva flow. Good oral hygiene practices are particular important: brushing, flossing and using a fluoride rinse.

Venus Williams has been able to control her Sjogren’s Syndrome symptoms since she was a diagnosed in 2009.  She has been amazingly able to continue to play tennis at a high level and even improve her game, which is so impressive making the Wimbledon finals.  Venus Williams is a shining example and spokes person for Sjogren’s syndrome.


George Malkemus has a Family and Cosmetic Dental Practice in Rohnert Park at 2 Padre Parkway, Suite 200. Call 585-8595, or email info@malkemusdds.com.  Visit Dr. Malkemus’ Web site at http://www.malkemusdds.com


2 Padre Pkwy #200, Rohnert Park, CA 94928
Phone | (707) 585-8595

Wimbledon Tennis Finalist Venus Williams Has Sjogren’s Syndrome

Do You Have a Dental Disorder?

The range of possible dental disorders is wide and many and some are more easily recognized than others. It could be a bit perplexing to consider you may have a dental disorder without realizing it, but it’s actually more common than you might think. Some disorders have obvious symptoms that may have you running to our office. Others can be more subtle. Do you feel tired, easily irritable, or have difficulty focusing? Do you have facial soreness or pain? Surprisingly, these may be the result of a dental disorder. Our goal is to educate our patients on common and uncommon symptoms that may be a sign to visit our office and receive the required care to remedy these conditions.

A dental disorder is a disruption of your body’s natural process relating to your oral health. Despite its origins, it is important to understand symptoms may be experienced elsewhere in the body. For this reason, many suffer from ailments they don’t consider relevant to tell their dentist. However, as we are a medical provider we encourage you to share things that may not seem related – you never know! Here are a few to keep on the lookout, so you can better identify signs should something be amiss.

Redness and swelling of the gums may indicate the presence of gingivitis, or early-stage gum disease. Left untreated, it can progress into full blown periodontitis that can threaten your smile and even cause tooth loss. Bleeding from the gums, tooth mobility, and soreness are all signs of periodontitis and should be checked.

Simple bad breath, or halitosis, is very common among adults and teens. While it usually isn’t cause for too much concern, we understand it can weigh on your self-esteem. We care about your health and happiness, and would love to work with you to address the root of the issue. Restoring healthy smiles is what we do; restoring confidence is a happy side effect.

Additionally, a dry mouth may not seem like a dire situation. However, if your mouth constantly feels dry it can lead to an increased risk of tooth decay. Saliva plays an important role in ridding your mouth of bacteria, it also aids in digestion meaning it can evolve into issues that transcend the health of your smile.

We understand some conditions may seem complex. Rest assured we are here to work with you to find a solution to your unique needs. If you feel one or more of these conditions may apply to you or a family member, call our office to begin seeking relief today. We are here for you.


2 Padre Pkwy #200, Rohnert Park, CA 94928

Phone | (707) 585-8595


Do You Have a Dental Disorder?