Many people are reluctant to visit their dentist, worried that they may not have been the most diligent dental patient and could be in for bad news. However, in addition to helping to prevent tooth decay, gum disease and other dental health issues, your dentist can help uncover important clues about your overall health during regular check-ups.
From stress to diabetes to oral cancer, your dentist or periodontist can help alert you to a number of acute and chronic diseases and health concerns, including stress, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and more. By offering early detection of these serious issues, and advising you on what preventative steps to take, your dentist can save your life. Many studies over the years have revealed a strong link between dental health and your overall health, which makes taking care of your teeth all the more important. But there are also many telltale signs that your dentist might be able to see in your mouth that offer a unique perspective on what’s happening in the rest of your body.
To better understand which potential health risks your dentist can help predict and find out what important questions you can ask them, let’s explore some of the major health concerns for which your dentist can be on the lookout.
Obesity – When we head to the dentist we often think about the amount of sugar we’ve eaten since our last visit, knowing the effect eating lots of sugar can have on our oral health. But if your dentist notices an increased amount of tooth decay and cavities, your dentist understands that this could mean too many unhealthy foods that are high in sugar, which can put you at risk for obesity. Recent studies have shown a strong connection between obesity and oral health. Obesity can lead to a range of serious health risks including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, depression, and more, but with the help of early detection by your dentist and proper follow up, these issues can be avoided or minimized. Talk to your dentist about your eating habits and find out what you can do to stay on track to healthy eating.
Diabetes – Diabetes affects more than 25 million people in the United States and can lead to serious, life-threatening complications. Fortunately, your dentist can help identify the early warning signs of diabetes and recommend preventative steps and referrals to help address the issue before it escalates. Persistent bad breath and high incidents of oral fungal infections can be warning signs of someone with diabetes or with the potential to develop diabetes. Likewise, because diabetes reduces the body’s ability to fight infection, those who have already developed diabetes are at an increased risk of gingivitis and other oral health issues.
Cancer – Your dentist, dental hygienist, or periodontist will typically screen for oral cancer as part of a routine dental exam. Abnormalities in your mouth, including small red or white spots or sores, can be early indicators of oral cancer. Likewise, bleeding gums, cavities, and tooth discoloration can be red flags for a dentist that harmful lifestyle habits could be contributing the development of other types of cancer. Oral cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the U.S., with more than 40,000 people diagnosed with the disease each year. Fortunately, early detection by a dentist at the most treatable stages of oral cancer, can help lead to successful, life-saving outcomes.
In addition to these major health concerns, your dentist can also detect other issues such as stress (teeth grinding, swollen gums), sleep apnea, and more. So, when you schedule your next dental visit (don’t put it off!), and be sure to ask your dentist about the variety of health issues that can be detected and find out what steps you can take for better overall health. Remember, your dentist may just save your life!