The eyes may be the window to your soul, but your teeth and gums say a mouthful about your physical health.
In holistic dentistry when we say, “Open wide.” we are examining your mouth for clues to your health as well as for signs of dental disease.
Many people are reluctant to visit a dentist. But having a regular checkup could be a lifesaver. Because dentists have had medical training, we can detect early signs of major illnesses, often before you the patient feels unwell.
Dentists would do well to educate patients that their work goes beyond checking on the health of their teeth. As a holistic dentist I am always explaining to people how the condition of their teeth, mouth and gums tells me about the overall state of their body. We need to teach people that there is more to a dental visit than just spotting decay and cleaning their teeth.
During your comprehensive dental examinations, I am always on the lookout for symptoms that might indicate illnesses that are non-dental in origin.
So really, what does a dentist know about your health?
During your routine dental check-up, your dentist can uncover important clues about your overall health.
If your tooth enamel is worn down, for example, that’s a sign that you may be suffering from stress and grinding your at night. Swollen and receding gums can be an early sign of diabetes, and sores in your mouth that don’t heal can sometimes indicate oral cancer.
A dentist may be the first to notice these symptoms.
Dentists are concerned about more than saving your teeth – we are looking at how your oral health fits into your overall wellbeing.
Here are some of the most common conditions we at Evolve Dental Healing look out for that can affect your oral health.
People with type 1 and type 2 diabetes are more likely to develop gum disease because they have a decreased ability to fight bacterial infections, including those that occur in the mouth. In addition, serious gum disease can make it more difficult for people with diabetes to control their blood sugar levels.
When I see a patient with symptoms like frequent gum abscesses, swelling, a lot of bone loss in a short amount of time, and gum disease that doesn’t respond to normal treatment, those can be signs of diabetes Over the years, I’ve had several patients who I identified as diabetic and they didn’t even know it.
If your dentist suspects that you have undiagnosed diabetes, he or she will advise you to go to your doctor for testing.
Your dentist can also tell if a diabetic’s blood sugar is not well controlled because gum disease becomes more difficult to treat.
I often recommend more frequent dental exams and hygiene visits if you have a history of diabetes and gum disease.
2. Oral Cancer
The first sign of oral cancer is often a small red or white spot or sore in the mouth. It can appear on your lips, gums, tongue, cheek lining, or in other parts of your mouth.
Often, the patient does not notice it because it starts as a small spot toward the back of the mouth or under the tongue and they don’t have any symptoms,
Dentists will typically screen for oral cancer as part of a routine dental exam. By scheduling regular check-ups, you can increase the chances that any potentially cancerous or precancerous lesions will be caught early and successfully treated. If you smoke or regularly consume alcohol you are at a higher risk for developing oral cancer so I recommend more frequent dental visits in these cases.
Also, be sure to tell your dentist if you’ve noticed symptoms like a sore in your mouth that doesn’t heal, a lump, or pain or numbness anywhere in your mouth or on your lips.
Your teeth may be worn down or chipped if you’ve been unconsciously grinding or clenching them. This grinding (known as bruxism) can eventually cause bone loss that your dentist may detect on your X-rays. Grinding and clenching can chip, crack and even split teeth and can cause significant and sometimes irreparable damage.
Bruxism is usually caused by stress but can also occur because the top and bottom teeth aren’t aligned properly and can be a sign of sleep disorders like sleep apnoea. You may or may not be aware that you’ve been grinding your teeth, but your dentist can spot the signs.
To prevent damage to your teeth and keep them apart so your jaw muscles can relax, your dentist can fit you with a custom mouth guard to wear while you sleep.
4. Premature and Low-Weight Births
Studies suggest that pregnant women with serious gum disease (periodontitis) are more likely to deliver a premature baby of low birth weight.
The bacteria in the mouth of a woman with gum disease can trigger an increase in a chemical compound called prostaglandin and other harmful inflammatory molecules. These chemicals can induce early labor and impair foetal growth.
Women who are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant should get a dental exam and, if necessary, treatment for gum disease as early as they can.
If you want a healthy and predictable pregnancy, it makes sense to take care of your periodontal/gum health as early as possible.
5. Heart Disease
Since gum disease may increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes, you should tell your dentist if you have cardiovascular disease or have a family history of these conditions.
Researchers are investigating the links between gum disease and cardiovascular disease. One potential link is that inflammation in the mouth increases inflammation in other parts of the body, including the arteries. This inflammation may play a role in heart attacks or strokes.
By treating gum disease and reducing the inflammation in your mouth, you may be able to lower your risk of stroke or heart attack.
If the cancer is in the bones of the mouth, a dentist can spot swellings. If the salivary glands are affected, swollen cheeks and tonsils are an indicator. As are swollen lymph glands in the head and neck region.
Swollen and enlarged gums, bleeding gums and ulceration of the mouth are all early indicators of this life threatening conditions and can easily be detected by the dentist.
Decrease in bone density in the bones that hold the teeth can be spotted on a dental X-ray.
9. Hodgkin’s Disease
A sometimes-fatal disease of the lymphatic system, which shows up as swollen lymph nodes, can be detected in the mouth.
10. Addison’s Disease
This condition affects the adrenal glands resulting in weight loss, severe fatigue and lowered resistance to infection. It can be detected from changes in the pigmentation of the oral tissue and gums.
Indicators in the mouth include ulcers, enlarged tonsils, thrush infections, growths and severe gum disease.
12. Blood Conditions and More
Other conditions that can also be revealed at a dental visit are blood disorders like anaemia, vitamin B deficiency, oral thrush, fungal infections and even autoimmune conditions.
These are just some of the health conditions I am aware of and look out for when seeing my patients.
Hopefully from this list you can see how important regular visits are to your dentist, not only for your oral health but for your general wellbeing too.
So next time you are thinking about putting off that dental check up stop and think again as visiting your dentist could not only save your teeth – it could save your life.
Call us for a comprehensive dental exam and health screening. 07 3720 1811