Few people expect a visit to the dentist – but in addition to detecting cavities and gum disease, it can save your life.
“What most people don’t know is that their dentist can be their first line of defense for detecting symptoms of broader health problems elsewhere in the body,” says Neil Sikka, dental director at Bupa Dental Care.
So what are the red flags you should always be on the lookout for?
Blue lips can signal BAD CIRCULATION
Lips with a bluish tinge can mean more than just that you’re feeling cold. “Any unusual appearance of bluish lips can indicate many things, for example poor circulation or anemia,” says Neil.
“I always encourage a patient with very pale lips, lining of the mouth or tongue to visit their doctor and have a blood test and a heart test done.”
Gum disease can signal DIABETES
“It’s well documented that people with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing gum disease,” says Neil. “Now, research is starting to show that the link works both ways.
“Gum disease and infection can lead to an increase in blood sugar levels and influence the risk of developing diabetes.
“Dentists are not just looking for problems they can physically see, they are trained to identify odor coming from teeth and gums – for example, the smell of pear drops is often indicative of uncontrolled diabetes.”
Worn teeth can be STRESS
Severe stress can make us grind or clench our teeth, and over time this can cause serious damage. “This can lead to jaw joint and bite problems,” says Susie Lloyd, a dentist at Holt Dental Care in Norfolk.
“Damaged or worn teeth, sensitive teeth, broken teeth and broken fillings are all symptoms of grinding or clenching your teeth, which can be caused by stress or anxiety.
Your dentist may recommend a mouthguard to prevent sleep-related teeth grinding or ask you to see your doctor to help manage stress. ”
Plaque Excess Can Signal A LUNG CONDITION
Neil from Bupa says: “If your mouth contains a lot of plaque, doctors believe the bacteria can spread to the lungs, causing infection or worsening existing conditions such as emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Therefore, if a patient has oral health issues and there is evidence suggesting that this has potentially triggered lung problems such as a persistent cough or chronic mucus production, we advise that they consult a physician.”
Worn enamel can signal BULIMIA
Dentists can often tell if a patient is bulimic by how worn down their tooth enamel is.
“A distinct pattern of tooth wear could be due to repeated episodes of vomiting, indicating someone with bulimia, which can contribute to increased cavities,” says Neil.
“This is because vomit contains stomach acids, which are corrosive and strong enough to wear down the enamel that protects your teeth. In sensitive cases like these, where we feel someone has an eating disorder, we ask if we can refer them for help.”
A mouth ulcer that doesn’t heal could be a sign of CANCER
Mouth ulcers can be caused by many things, including ill-fitting dentures, erupting wisdom teeth, infections, medications, dietary deficiencies, or damage from brushing and are very common.
But if you have a mouth ulcer that isn’t healing, get help. “An ulcer that hasn’t healed after two weeks could be a sign of something more serious,” says dentist Susie.
“It could mean cancer of the mouth, so it’s important to talk to your dentist, who can refer you to a specialist for further testing.”
White spots on the tongue can signal THRUSH
“If you find that you have white patches or patches on your tongue, it could indicate a fungal infection such as oral thrush,” says Neil Sikka.
It is generally harmless and can be easily treated with over-the-counter mouthwash.
However, if you see a hard, flat, white area that cannot be shaved off, it could be leukoplakia, which is linked to cancer.
“It’s important to let your dentist know about any white spots you see on your tongue that haven’t gone away after fifteen days.”
Hoarse voice can signal NERVO DAMAGE
Surprisingly, it’s not just your teeth and gums that your dentist is checking to make sure you’re in good health.
“Even something like a patient with a hoarse voice would worry me as it could be a sign of nerve damage or even oral cancer,” says Neil Sikka.
“As part of any routine oral cancer screening, which I perform during every check-up, I always check the patient’s lips, tongue, cheek, floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate, and throat.
“If a patient had a persistent hoarse voice that lasted more than two weeks, this should not be ignored.”
Dry mouth can signal MENOPAUSE
“Many women may not be aware that their oral health can be affected during menopause,” says Faizan Zaheer, periodontist and implant dentist.
“The drop in estrogen levels causes the body to reduce saliva production, leading to a dry mouth.
“When the mouth is dry, bacteria can grow and the levels can lead to cavities and gum disease.
“Menopause can also lead to a weakness in the jaw, as well as, in rare cases, burning mouth syndrome, where you experience pain or a burning sensation on your tongue, gums, lips, inside your cheeks, or at the back of your mouth and throat.”
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