Your Oral Health Speaks Volumes about Your Body
Your mouth performs a range of important daily activities including eating, drinking, talking and smiling. But did you know that your mouth can also provide clues to other diseases? Dentists can act as disease detectives by simply examining your mouth, head, and neck for signs and symptoms that may point to more serious health issues. Dentists are at the forefront of saving lives, as more than 90 percent of common diseases have oral symptoms and can be detected in the dental chair.
The Presence of Disease
Many connections between your mouth and larger health issues have to do with bacteria. Studies have shown that heart disease and endocarditis (an inflammation of the lining of your heart), in particular, are linked to gum disease – a bacterial infection of the mouth. Inflamed gums can also signal a vulnerable immune system, which can be due to diabetes or disorders such as Sjogren’s syndrome.
In addition to gum problems, other oral matters are also telling. Tooth loss, for instance, has commonly been linked with both osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s. And lesions of the throat occur often in individuals suffering from HIV or AIDS. Last but not least, a dental exam can detect both oral and throat cancer, which typically present themselves via sores or patches that don’t go away. Suffice it to say, dental checkups can prove themselves invaluable when it comes to early detection of life-threatening health conditions.
What Conditions May Be Linked to Oral Health?
Your oral health might affect, be affected by, or contribute to various diseases and conditions, including:
Endocarditis. Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of your heart (endocardium). Endocarditis typically occurs when bacteria or other germs from another part of your body, such as your mouth, spread through your bloodstream and attach to damaged areas in your heart.
Cardiovascular disease. Some research suggests that heart disease, clogged arteries and stroke might be linked to the inflammation and infections that oral bacteria can cause.
Pregnancy and birth. Periodontitis has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight.
Diabetes. Diabetes reduces the body’s resistance to infection — putting the gums at risk. Gum disease appears to be more frequent and severe among people who have diabetes.
HIV/AIDS. Oral problems, such as painful mucosal lesions, are common in people who have HIV/AIDS.
Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis — which causes bones to become weak and brittle — might be linked with periodontal bone loss and tooth loss.
Alzheimer’s disease. Tooth loss before age 35 might be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
Stress. Your teeth may be worn down or chipped if you’ve been unconsciously grinding or clenching them. This grinding – also known as bruxism – can eventually cause bone loss that your dentist may detect on your X-rays. Bruxism is usually caused by stress but can also occur because the top and bottom teeth aren’t aligned properly. You may or may not be aware that you’ve been grinding your teeth, but your dentist can spot the signs.
Other conditions. Other conditions that might be linked to oral health include Sjogren’s syndrome — an immune system disorder that causes dry mouth — and eating disorders.
Harmful Habits That Impact Your Oral Health and Overall Health
It may not necessarily mean life or death, but some habits can cause a world of trouble – and costly mouth problems are proof of that.
Tobacco Use. Smoking, chewing and other forms of tobacco use pose serious threats, not just to your lungs, but also to the look and health of your teeth and gums. Red flags that alert your dentist that smoking is starting to do dental damage (and possibly much worse) are the telltale yellowing of teeth, white patches along the inside lining of the mouth, persistent bad breath, and lumps that can signal oral cancer.
Dietary Health. Finally, your mouth can offer clues about the safety and healthfulness of your diet. Severe tooth erosion and swelling of the throat and salivary glands are typical problems seen in patients with eating disorders, due to constant vomiting. Tooth decay and sensitivity can also come with excessive acid in your diet, and many times, signs and symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (“GERD” or simply, “acid reflux”) become apparent to your dentist even before your doctor. Even your breath can be telling of certain food choices, such as garlic or onions, which have long been known to cause halitosis.
Get Peace of Mind
Given everything a brief dental exam can uncover, there’s no denying the benefits of a routine checkup. More often than not, tooth, gum and other oral problems may simply be due to poor hygiene, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Remain diligent about seeing your dentist regularly, and don’t hesitate to schedule a checkup in between your typical visits if you notice anything amiss.
Sources: WebMD, Mayo Clinic