Your oral health may offer clues to your overall health, and the signs are clear
You expect your dentist to be able to spot cavities, inflammation and more, but did you ever consider that he/she might also be able to notice some more serious health issues? The state of your smile may offer insight on the rest of your body and possible health-threatening conditions, sometimes even before other symptoms show up.
Most people focus on the whiteness of their teeth to judge how healthy their smile is, but your gums also play an important role in determining oral health. In a 2014 study, nearly two-thirds of dentists said they’d refer a patient with periodontitis (inflammation around the gums) for a diabetes evaluation. The reason being that high blood sugar may be as damaging to your oral health as the sweet sugars in a can of soda. That’s because the condition can cause dry mouth, which increases plaque build-up, making people with uncontrolled diabetes more prone to dental problems.
Because the mouth is a passageway to the body, people who have chronic gum disease are at the highest risk for having a heart attack, according to the Academy of General Dentistry. Gum disease (called gingivitis in its early stages and periodontal disease in the late stages) is caused by plaque buildup. Some researchers have suggested that gum disease may contribute to heart disease because bacteria from infected gums can increase clot formations, which elevate blood pressure and increase the risk of a heart attack. Signs include loose, shifting or missing teeth, and increased probing depths, where the pockets around the teeth have deepened.
Is tooth loss linked to memory loss? In recent British research, a lack of teeth was associated with mental decline, while a 2012 study found that older adults with poor dental hygiene were 76 percent more likely to develop dementia. The research is relatively new so the link between the two isn’t perfectly clear. However, a small 2013 study detected Porphyromonas gingivalis (a bacteria associated with gum disease) in the brains of people with dementia, suggesting that it may play a role in the inflammation associated with cognitive decline.
Osteoporosis won’t cause your teeth to decay, but your dentist may be able to spot bone loss in the surrounding bones like the jaw. Normal, healthy bone should be dense at the edges and the interior, but when that’s not the case, the patient is likely to have osteoporosis. A 2013 study in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences found that the thickness of postmenopausal women’s jawbones was correlated with the bone density of their spine. This means that dentists could potentially diagnose osteoporosis in the early stages, which often goes undetected until a fracture occurs.
Acid reflux disease
You may feel heartburn most intensely in your chest, but the effects may be more obvious in your mouth. If you have acid reflux disease, the constant uprising of stomach acid could wear away at the enamel on your teeth and literally erode your teeth, making them appear thinner. In a 2008 study review, researchers found that almost 30 percent of adults with dental erosion also had a gastrointestinal esophageal reflux disease, or GERD. It is important to note that erosion can happen even without chest pain, so you may have reflux without even knowing it, making your dentist’s diagnosis very important.
Bottom line: your dentist is here to help. Make your dental health a priority and pay attention to your body. Even if you brush and floss regularly, it is important to get your dentist’s professional opinion so you can stay on top of your overall health and make it the best it can be.