What Your Dentist Can Tell You About Your Health
Could your mouth be the window to your overall health? That may be taking it a bit far, but your mouth is one of the first places in your body that can indicate if you are sick or have an underlying health problem. For this reason, regular dental check-ups are an important part of maintaining health and wellness.
Your mouth is home to all different types of bacteria. Some of this bacteria, if left unmanaged, can cause health issues or make conditions you have worse. For the most part, taking care of your oral health through brushing your teeth regularly and flossing prevent any harmful bacteria from affecting you. However, it is still important to visit your dentist for regular cleanings or if you notice a change in your oral health.
Conditions Your Dentist Can Help Identify
Because your mouth is so telling of your overall health, there are many conditions and diseases that can be identified by examining your teeth, gums, tongue and throat. You may be aware of some common oral health problems caused by bacteria and poor oral hygiene such as gum disease or gingivitis.
Here are some other conditions identifiable by your oral health:
- Heart Disease. Studies show that gum disease and inflammation of the gums are associated with a higher risk for a heart attack or stroke. If you have a family history of heart disease or other risk factors (high blood pressure, history of smoking, etc.), paying attention to your gums and practicing good oral hygiene is especially important. Contact your dentist if you see any sign of swelling or infection, and share any issues you have with your gums with your doctor.
- Cancer. Sometimes the most serious conditions are the hardest to spot. As much as you think you know your mouth, a dentist or doctor may be more likely to spot a red patch or unusual bump that is potentially cancerous. Often, an oral cancer screening is part of a standard dental cleaning visit. If you do notice any red spots or sores in your mouth that won’t go away, visit your doctor or dentist for an oral cancer screening.
- Diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), nearly one in four adults living with diabetes – 7.2 million Americans – don’t know they have the condition. Frequent swelling of the gums, bad breath, progressive bone loss and the inability to treat gum disease are normally indicators of an underlying problem, and may be one symptom of undiagnosed diabetes. They are also issues that you may not notice without consulting with your dentist. Notify your doctor if you experience these issues persistently, or have a cut or burn in your mouth that won’t heal.
- Stress. While stress may not seem like a serious issue compared to others on this list, too much stress can have detrimental effects on both your mental and physical health. Dentists will notice if you grind your teeth or clench your jaw, which are signs of stress. If left untreated, these problems can lead to more severe issues like worn down and chipped teeth or even bone loss. It also could be a wake-up call to work on reducing stress in your life.
Health Problems Poor Oral Hygiene Can Cause
It is also important to know that failing to maintain proper oral health can put you at a higher risk for developing or complicating severe health conditions – especially if your immune system is already weakened by another health condition. Here are a few to be aware of:
- HIV/AIDS. Like many other health conditions, HIV/AIDS makes it harder for your body to fight off infection. As a result, it is more common for you to develop sores and legions in the mouth that could become more severe if left untreated.
- Diabetes. Having type 1 or 2 diabetes can make it more difficult to manage your blood sugar and fight off bacterial infections leading to gum disease.
- Pregnancy. It is important for pregnant women to maintain proper oral care. Gum disease or other oral health conditions can lead to low birth weight or a premature birth.
Your best bet for avoiding any severe condition is to properly take care of your mouth. Brush and floss daily and thoroughly, be on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary, visit your dentist every six months for cleanings, and don’t be afraid to ask questions if you are concerned about your oral health and its effect on your total health.