By Cindy Kuzma
Your mouth is like a crystal ball for your health.
That’s because a good dentist can spot a wide
range of potential medical problems by looking
between your chompers.
In fact, we found 6 serious health conditions
that could be first discovered while you’re
getting your teeth clean.
Your dentist sees: Less spit than you should have.
Dry mouth can signal a hidden case of diabetes,
but you might not notice that parched feeling
until your saliva production decreases by half,
says Gigi Meinecke, D.M.D., F.A.G.D.,
spokesperson of the Academy of General
Your dentist’s trained eye can spot dryness much
sooner. Chronic bad breath and slow healing
when you burn or cut your mouth also might
arouse suspicion. (You shouldn’t ignore these
Silent Warning Signs of Diabetes, either.) What to
do: According to a recent NYU study, your dentist
may soon be able to screen for and control
diabetes using blood collected from your gums
during a routine visit. But until this test is widely
available, see your primary care doctor for a
physical and blood glucose check.
2. Acid reflux
Your dentist sees: Erosion in your bottom teeth.
Any substance with a pH of 5.5 or lower can
dissolve your tooth enamel—and gastric
acid clocks in as low as 1.5, easily eating away
at your pearly whites, Dr. Meinecke says.
According to a recent study in the International
Journal of Dentistry, about 1 in 4 people with
chronic reflux have tooth erosion, sometimes
without heartburn or other obvious symptoms.
What to do: Schedule an appointment with a
gastroenterologist. Untreated gastroesophageal
reflux disease (GERD) can lead to more serious
health problems, including respiratory issues
and esophageal cancer.
3. Crohn’s disease
Your dentist sees: Raised bumps that look like
cobblestones on the gums right around your
teeth. That’s because the same inflammation
that strikes the intestines of people with
Crohn’s disease can also affect their mouths,
causing this classic sign, Dr. Meinecke says.
Because these bumps aren’t painful, you might
not even notice them before your dentist spots
them. What’s more, recurring canker sores--
those small, painful ulcers that form inside your
mouth—could also signal Crohn’s or another
type of inflammatory bowel disease, notes
a recent review in the Journal of Evidence-Based
Dental Practice.What to do: Ask the dentist if
topical corticosteroids can calm
the inflammation in your mouth. And see a
gastroenterologist for an evaluation of what’s
going on in your gut.
4. Heart disease
Your dentist sees: Gum or periodontal disease in
a person who doesn’t fit the profile—say, a
younger guy who brushes frequently. Signs like
swollen, red gums that bleed, coupled with other
cardiovascular risk factors like extra weight and
family history can raise a red flag, says Dr.
Meinecke. What to do: Ask your dentist about
treating your dental disease with deep cleanings
or other techniques. Doing so could keep you out
of the hospital due to heart disease, stroke, or
another health issue, according to a recent study
in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Then book a visit with your primary care doctor
to assess your heart risks. People with
periodontal disease have up to triple the risk of
having a heart attack or stroke, says David
Paquette, D.M.D., M.P.H., D.M.Sc., of Stony
Brook University School of Dental Medicine.
(Make sure you’re not falling prey to these 5
Common Heart-Health Myths, too.)
Your dentist sees: Slight discolorations where
tissues look whiter or redder than normal, often
far back in your throat. That’s the way many oral
cancers caused by the human papillomavirus
(HPV)—on the rise among young men—begin. In
fact, Dr. Meinecke says she now looks closely for
signs in anyone age 14 and older. (Plus, Older
Guys Might Be More Vulnerable to Oral HPV,
potentially raising their risk of developing head
and neck cancers as a result.) What to do: Your
dentist may ask you to come back in 7 days to
see if anything’s changed. If not, get a biopsy.
If you do have cancer, early detection improves
the odds of successful treatment, Dr. Meinecke
6. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
Your dentist sees: Jaw swelling, and you can feel
pain, too. Unlike osteoarthritis, which commonly
occurs as you get older, rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
is an autoimmune condition that sometimes
strikes young people. And half of those with
early-onset RA first display symptoms of
temporomandibular joint dysfunction, better
known as TMJ. In addition to feeling an achy jaw,
you also might not be able to open your mouth
very wide, Dr. Meinecke says. What to do: Take
the issue to your family doctor or a medical
specialist known as a rheumatologist. They
usually diagnose and treat RA.
Tags: dentistdentaldiabetesheart diseasecancer