Did you realise your dentist knows a lot more about you than whether you really floss as often as you claim? In fact, they can detect all kinds of potentially serious health issues just by looking in your mouth.
Your mouth gives 10 telltale signs that you may have a serious health issue, according to the experts at expressdentist.com.
Mick Armstrong, chair of the British Dental Association’s health and science committee, says: “Through doing routine check-ups, dentists can often pick up on a patient’s existing health conditions beyond the state of their teeth and gums.
“In fact, we’re often at the forefront of picking up oral cancers during dental check-ups and other serious illnesses, too. Think of going to the dentist as an MOT!”
Here are some symptoms you should watch for…
1. Tooth enamel changes
Possible causes: Gastroesophageal reflux disease, eating disorders (such as bulimia)
Changes in the colour, shape, translucency or sensitivity of your teeth may be a sign of GERD – when stomach acid flows back into the oesophagus, which connects your mouth and stomach. Known as acid reflux, this irritates the lining, causing heartburn, trouble swallowing and chest pain. Frequent vomiting means stomach acids wash over teeth and dissolve enamel.
2. Pale gums
Possible cause: Anaemia
Healthy gums are pink but pale gums can be a sign of anaemia, commonly due to an iron deficiency. It can also affect the colour of your tongue and mucous membranes inside your mouth.
3. Fruity breath
Possible cause: Diabetes
Breath that has a fruity smell is a byproduct of your body burning fat instead of sugar for energy. Diabetes often shows up as swollen, sore, and bleeding gums too, along with cold sores and a dry mouth. Research suggests that people who have gum disease are also more likely to develop diabetes.
4. Tooth loss
Possible cause: Osteoporosis
The bone around your teeth provides the foundation that supports them. Teeth that move more than average in an exam give an early hint of this progressive bone-thinning condition.
5. Oral thrush
Possible causes: HIV, auto-immune diseases
Dentists don't expect to see oral thrush in patients with normal immunity unless they wear dentures. But as the virus weakens the immune system in HIV patients, these people become more susceptible to it.
6. Mouth sores
Possible cause: Coeliac disease
Recurrent mouth ulcers (canker sores) can be a manifestation of coeliac disease, a digestive issue that affects a patient's ability to tolerate gluten in their diet. They can also be a feature of Crohn's disease, allergies or a vitamin B deficiency.
7. Dry mouth
Possible cause: Kidney disease
Many chronic kidney disease patients experience poor oral health, including a dry mouth and changes to their sense of taste. Saliva has active compounds that play vital roles in taste stimulation.
Possible causes: Tonsillitis, respiratory infections, liver disease
Poor oral hygiene is usually the reason for bad breath, but halitosis can also be a sign of various respiratory tract illnesses, such as sinusitis or bronchitis, or even liver disease. If your liver has trouble filtering out toxic elements, sulphur substances end up in your bloodstream and in your lungs, giving your breath a distinct smell when you exhale.
9. Spots, lumps, bumps and swelling
Possible cause: Cancer
Although these are usually benign, early signs of head and neck cancers, including those of the mouth and throat, can be spotted by dentists. They usually check the glands around your neck too for signs of swelling that could indicate illness, including cancer.
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Possible link: Heart disease
Untreated gum disease, in extreme circumstances, has been blamed for causing heart attacks. People with gum disease (also known as periodontal disease) have two to three times the risk of a heart attack, stroke, or other serious cardiovascular event. Research on why this is the case is ongoing, but one theory is that infection in the soft tissue and bone supporting the teeth can result in chronic inflammation affecting the rest of the body.
Is your toothbrush making you sick?
An uncovered toothbrush can harbour more than 100 million bacteria – including E.coli bacteria, which cause stomach upsets, and staphylococci ("Staph"), which trigger skin infections and nasties such as strep throat.
The British Dental Association recommends:
- Ditch your toothbrush every three to four months. If you have a weak immune system, replace it more often .
- Throw out the heads of electric toothbrushes as often as you would discard a disposable toothbrush.
- If you or anyone in your household are ill, replace all toothbrushes.
- Don't brush where you flush! Every toilet flush sends a spray of bacteria into the air and you don't want that near your toothbrush.
- Keep your toothbrush well rinsed and dry. Bacteria love a moist environment so avoid using toothbrush covers. l Store it upright in a holder, rather than lying it down, and as far as possible from the loo, preferably in a cabinet.
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