Everyone wants healthy, pearly white teeth, a fresh breath and no nasty dental bills, but you may not know that regular dental check-ups can also help early detection of a variety of bodily health issues. Here are nine conditions that your dentist may be able to detect in a regular checkup.
Those that suffer type I and type II diabetes are more likely to suffer from gum (periodontal) disease, which can lead to bleeding gums, loose teeth and the necessity for serious dental intervention. Also, people with diabetes have a slower healing time as their bodies find it harder to ward off bacteria. If your dentist notices that you’ve been suffering from frequent abscesses, swollen gums or possibly bone loss, she or he may recommend you have further medical checks to rule out this debilitating disease.
2. Heart disease
Gum disease is far more common than many of us realise. Gum disease is mostly preventable through good oral hygiene which keeps bacteria at bay. When the disease takes hold, the proliferation of bacteria can enter your bloodstream and travel to your heart, contributing to coronary artery disease. This bacteria can also cause the formation of clots or plaque in your arteries which cause problems with your blood flow. These problems may become serious, even resulting in heart attack or stroke.
Currently, there is a lot of research into the link between periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease. While we are still not clear on every aspect of the correlation, scientists recommend we do everything we can to keep gum disease at bay to lower your risk of stroke or heart attack.
If you suffer from either reflux or gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, your stomach juices will rise through your oesophagus toward your mouth, and this will occur more frequently at night due to your horizontal sleeping position. If your dentist detects erosion of your tooth enamel, particularly at the back of your mouth, this may be an indication of reflux, as it may be stomach acid is causing the erosion.
4. Dry mouth
People can suffer from dry mouth for a multitude of reasons: certain medications (e.g. antihistamines, decongestants, antidepressants), ageing, diabetes and even Parkinson’s disease can all reduce saliva flow. Our saliva is important because it helps to dislodge bacteria and food from our teeth; without it, the bacteria can build up and cause cavities and gum disease. In a regular dental examination, your dentist may be able to spot your dry mouth and help attribute it to a cause that may need your attention.
Although studies are clear on this issue, a recent report in the Journal of American Geriatric Society concluded that those who brush their teeth less than once a day were 65% more likely to develop dementia than those who brushed daily. It is thought that this may be due to the accumulated gum disease bacteria which may affect brain function through inflammation
6. Oral cancer
As part of your regular dental check-up, your dentist will check your mouth for early signs of cancer. These signs may be not something you would have noticed yourself. They may appear as small white or red dots or sores in any of your oral soft tissue, such as your cheeks, gums, tongue or lips. If your dentist notices something unusual, they will recommend further tests to rule out anything nasty.
A woman’s progesterone levels rise when she becomes pregnant which can encourage the growth of bacteria. This influx of bacteria can lead to many pregnant women developing gingivitis. Occasionally, pregnant women can develop a pyogenic granuloma, also known as a pregnancy tumour. This is completely benign and will disappear after pregnancy. It’s unlikely that your dentist will discover your pregnancy, though; most women are fairly developed in their pregnancy before these oral symptoms appear.
Many people, when stressed, take to grinding their teeth at night. Also known as bruxism, this can develop into quite a nasty problem with enamel being worn away or even keep becoming chipped or broken. If your dentist notices signs of wear and tear in your teeth, it may be time to take further action by both reducing your stress levels and having your dentist recommend ways to combat your bruxism.
Some studies have found that women with osteoporosis have higher incidences of gum disease than those without the condition. However, the reasons are still unclear. One theory is that the inflammation caused by periodontitis could weaken the bone in parts of the body. If your dentist notices receding gum lines and loosening teeth, this could be a warning sign that you are suffering from osteoporosis.
There are even more health problems that may be detected by the state of your oral health, such as eating disorders, Alzheimer’s, HIV/AIDS, head and neck cancers, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s syndrome – an immune system disorder that causes a dry mouth.
There is no need to be frightened of potential health conditions, though. If detected early, most conditions can be treated, so it’s always advisable to stay in regular contact with your dentist for checkups.
And, of course, you’ll keep your teeth nice and healthy, too!
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