Even if you don’t say a word to your dentist, your mouth says a lot.
And that’s a very good thing—because your dentist isn’t just your oral health specialist, but a trained healthcare provider who is also looking for a variety of problems that can be revealed when you open wide.
For example, did you know that your dentist can tell that you have may have acid reflux, osteoporosis, or you’re a jaw clencher or tooth grinder? And your dentist may see signs of other disorders like heart disease or diabetes.
“I’m not going to diagnose you with something like diabetes or heart disease during your dental appointment,” says TRU Dentistry’s Samantha Hollinger, D.M.D. “But I have definitely sent people to their primary care physician based on what I’m seeing in their mouth, along with a thorough review of their medical history.”
So, what can your dentist see about your health during a dental checkup?
- Cancers– of the mouth and skin. Did you know that oral cancer is more common than leukemia, melanoma, Hodgkin’s disease, and cancers of the brain, liver, thyroid gland, stomach, ovaries, and cervix?
- Periodontal (gum) disease– It’s about a lot more than just your gums. Gum disease has been linked to heart disease and diabetes. “Your gums are not like your skin—they’re not a closed system–so the bacteria can get into your blood and wreak havoc,” says Dr. Hollinger. “Did you know that the bacteria in your mouth double in population every eight to 12 hours? Gross!”
- Enamel loss– Erosion of your tooth enamel can be the result of acid reflux, eating disorders, and even abrasive whitening toothpastes. Once enamel is gone, it can’t be replaced or rebuilt, making teeth more vulnerable to decay and cavities. Ask your TRU Dentistry dentist about options for addressing enamel erosion.
- Bone weakening– A loose tooth or receding gums can be signs of bone loss or deterioration associated with osteoporosis.
- Dry mouth– Aside from being irritating, dry mouth can increase your vulnerability to developing gum disease and cavities because saliva helps flush out food and bacteria. Dry mouth can be caused by medications or a salivary gland disorder, but it can also be an early indicator of diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.
- Stress– If you grind your teeth or clench your jaw, it can show up as worn, chipped teeth, bone loss, and even receding gums.
- Cavities and tooth decay– There’s a reason your dentist wants to see you every six months: that’s how long it can take for a small cavity to become a root canal or crown. Also during that time, plaque is building up on your teeth and calculus (or tartar) is forming above and below the gum line. Plaque carries bacteria that can damage your tooth enamel; tartar can cause receding gums and gum disease.
- Sores– canker sores and other ulcerations can develop in reaction to acidic foods, but they can also indicate conditions like Crohn’s disease, Addison’s disease, vitamin deficiency, and viral infections.
Those are just a few of the things your dentist can see when you open up. “Dental issues can escalate really quickly,” notes Dr. Hollinger. “It’s so much better to catch them sooner rather than later—it can save you a lot of money and pain.”
So, if you’re overdue for a dental checkup, make an appointment, and open wide.
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