When you go to the dentist for a check-up, they can tell much more about your overall health than you might realise.
Of course, they can see if you eat too many sweets by the number of cavities you have. They will also be able to tell if you floss and brush twice daily as you told them.
Dentists can also know whether you are potentially at risk of developing a severe illness or if you already have a life-threatening disease. Your dentist may see warning signs of a future stroke or heart attack. They may also be able to spot if you are likely to get diabetes.
Mouth problems such as thrush, bad breath, ulcers, infections and tooth decay point to more general health problems. The heart and mouth are very closely linked, for instance. Bacteria present in inflamed gums can spread, infecting the heart valves and triggering inflammation in the heart itself. Meanwhile, jaw pain can be an indicator of a heart attack.
“The mouth is the window to the body. Often, diseases like cancer, anaemia and diabetes will be first identified by the dentist in a regular examination, and this saves lives.”
Pregnancy or bulimia
Eroded enamel on teeth can cause a dentist to suspect that a patient is pregnant (morning sickness can cause this enamel erosion as a result of stomach acid). Sickness is also a result of bulimia, and if the eroded teeth are accompanied by speedy weight loss and gain, then this can prove a red flag to your dentist. Eroded teeth can also be the result of a problem with acid reflux.
Sufferers from sleep apnoea, who have breathing problems when they sleep, often wear down their teeth by grinding them together at night. Another indicator of this condition is ridges on the tongue’s side or the throat’s redness.
A tooth or two that suddenly falls out can be a sign of osteoporosis. That’s because the condition reduces bone density and can affect the jaw area. People who suffer from osteoporosis are up to three times more likely to lose teeth.
The inflammation in the gums caused by bacteria can spread further than the heart valves. It can also adversely affect the kidneys. An indicator of a kidney problem is breath that smells ‘fishy.’ This is also referred to as ‘ammonia breath.’ Incidentally, breath that smells ‘fruity’ could be the result of diabetes. At the same time, foul-smelling breath could be down to gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) or even a tonsil stone.
The sinuses are almost touching the roots of your top tooth, so when you experience sinus pain, you may think you need a root canal treatment. Both conditions cause pressure and pain. But your dentist may spot that the sinus is the source.
Gums which bleed easily, a tongue that feels like it’s on fire, sores in the corner of the mouth, and repeated mouth infections can all lead a dentist to conclude that you may be deficient in iron. The condition itself is called anaemia.
Your dentist may also identify if you drink too much or if you bite your nails. The number of cavities can spot a heavy drinker because alcohol dries out the mouth. Of course, the smell is often a giveaway too.
A nail-biter will probably have flat front teeth and cracks or chips on other teeth. These are caused by the constant biting down motion, and they can eventually lead to jaw pain.
How to be proactive rather than reactive
You can get a heads-up on any potential medical conditions by making sure you visit your dentist for a check-up at least every six months. That will also allow them to give your mouth a thorough clean.
Of course, it’s not only your dentist who can pinpoint health problems. You can check for yourself by examining your gums and teeth from time to time. If you note any white or red lumps in your mouth or bleeding sores which don’t heal up easily, make an appointment with your dentist. These symptoms could indicate a nutritional deficiency, an autoimmune disease or even, in the worst instance, oral cancer.