As you recline in the dentist's examination chair and the doctor inspects and probes each tooth, you know that he or she is evaluating your mouth for cavities, gum recession, periodontal disease and other oral health issues. You may not be talking at that moment, but your mouth is still telling your dentist about more than just your oral health. Find out what your mouth is saying and how your dentist can be an effective sleuth when it comes to uncovering the clues of other health problems.
Your Mouth and Body Are Connected
Regular dental examinations, brushing your teeth twice each day, daily flossing, limiting sugar intake and refraining from tobacco use are all essential steps toward maintaining good oral health. These proactive steps are equally helpful in preserving your systemic health because your mouth and your body share the connection with your overall health status. When you develop periodontal disease, the bacteria in your mouth invade the rest of your body through your bloodstream. This can have adverse impacts on crucial organs, such as your kidneys and your heart. Likewise, systemic disease can lead to changes in your oral health that provide a glimpse into the health of the rest of your body.
Evidence of Problems
Sooner or later, most health problems present signs and symptoms that something is amiss in your health. For example, diabetics experience an increase in thirst and urination. In the majority of systemic diseases, the symptoms include oral signs of illness. Some of these signs include the following:
- Ulcerations in your mouth
- Persistent halitosis or specific odor nuances on your breath
- Swollen or bleeding gums
- Dry mouth
- Loose teeth
- Jaw pain
Some of these signs could be evidence of gingivitis or periodontal disease, or they could be clues that are indicative of another health problem.
Diseases That Your Dentist May Suspect
Your mouth is a blabbermouth, even in silence, and your dentist is getting the whole story. Worn teeth tattle that you may suffer from stress or anxiety that leads to bruxism, or the habit of grinding your teeth. Your mouth also alerts your dentist of some potentially serious diseases as well. Once your dentist has performed a thorough examination and reviewed your dental radiographs, he or she may recommend that you schedule an appointment with your primary care physician. Some diseases that are diagnosed by primary care physicians after dentists have observed oral signs of illness include the following:
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Oral cancer
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or acid reflux
Even if you have not experienced any additional signs or symptoms of illness, following your dentist's recommendation by following up with your primary care physician can enable the diagnosis of a disease at an early stage. Early diagnosis of many diseases can mean taking control and preventing bigger problems down the road.
Teamwork for Better Health
If your habit has been to visit your primary care physician only when you feel sick, your dentist may be the first doctor to detect a potential disease that is lurking in your body. Taking control of your overall health requires teamwork between your dentist, your primary care physician and you, the patient. If you are already aware of an existing health problem and taking steps to treat or manage the condition, be sure to inform your dentist and tell him or her about any medications that you are taking. Some drugs, such as those used to control stomach ulcers, osteoporosis and hypertension, can have side effects that appear in the mouth. By following regular examinations and diagnostic screening schedules as recommended by both your dental clinic and your primary care physician, you will be proactive in maintaining optimal oral and overall health.