Sure, a dentist ensures that your gums and pearly whites are healthy, strong and clean—but that’s not all they do. Since oral health problems can be indicative of other illnesses, dentists can also alert you to potential issues with your overall health.
For instance, studies suggest a connection between heart disease and stroke to bacterial buildup on the teeth. And bacteria from inflamed gums can travel and accumulate as plaque in other areas of the body, ultimately clogging arteries and potentially causing cardiac events.
Though regular visits to the dentist won’t make you immune to heart attacks or other health episodes, oral health professionals can identify warning signs so you can get help sooner. Here are six other health concerns a dentist can diagnose through a regular checkup.
1. GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease)
GERD occurs when you regurgitate stomach acid while you’re sleeping. This digestive disease regularly washes teeth in acidic saliva, causing them to crack, crumble or wear away. Your dentist will be able to spot damaged teeth and advise you on what to do next.
2. Liver or Kidney Problems
If you have bad breath despite brushing and flossing religiously, it could signal a problem with your stomach. Bacterial overgrowth from the stomach can cause bad breath if your kidneys and liver aren’t eliminating toxins properly. Other infections like sinusitis or pneumonia can also cause bad breath. Talk to your dentist if you’ve struggled to achieve fresher breath, even after using a variety of toothpastes, mints and mouthwashes. It could be a result of a medical problem—not that onion bagel.
3. Gluten Intolerance or Celiac Disease
Canker sores may be a symptom of gluten intolerance: the body’s inability to process foods that contain wheat, rye and barley. If you’ve had unexplained canker sores, your dentist can shed light on whether gluten could be to blame.
More than 7.2 million people aren’t aware they have diabetes; when this condition isn’t well managed, it can take a toll on one’s oral health, causing loss of taste, cavities, advanced gum disease and other symptoms. Luckily, dentists can help identify whether or not you may have diabetes, or are at risk of developing it, and guide you on proper oral health care strategies if you already have the condition. Studies suggest that treating gum disease can help diabetic patients better manage their blood sugar control, slowing the disease’s progression.
In prediabetes, blood sugar is borderline high and can lead to frequent yeast infections in the mouth. These usually manifest as small white rashes that you may or may not notice. A dentist can help you treat them and can illuminate the underlying problem.
Morning headaches, muscle, jaw and neck pain could be caused by bruxism, AKA grinding your teeth while sleeping. You may not even know you’re doing this, but often dentists can spot the telltale signs from gnashed teeth and stress fractures. A dentist’s questionnaire typically asks about headaches and jaw pain to rule out temporomandibular (TMJ) disorder, a problem with the hinge that connects the jawbone to the skull.
Bruxism and TMJ disorder can be caused or aggravated by stress; if you’re aware of these conditions, you can begin to add mindfulness practices into your routine or consult a physician for help with stress relief.
6. Hormonal Issues
Bleeding gums can signify a problem with hormones, especially for women who are pregnant or in perimenopause or menopause. These conditions throw hormones off-kilter and can make gums sensitive and bleed more easily. Often, your dentist will notice this during a routine cleaning, but if your gums bleed regularly, mention it to your dentist. That way they can determine if it’s gum disease or hormone-related.
Believe it or not, these are just some of the health conditions a dentist can help assess through an oral examination. The symptoms of certain health conditions can mimic those of other less serious symptoms, so it’s important to tell your dentist about any changes or issues you’ve been experiencing. By asking them your questions, a dentist can ensure you’re getting the care you need to stay healthy—from your mouth to your toes.
For more ways to manage wellness every single day, browse these best practices from United Concordia Dental.