Your Mouth: An Early Warning System of Disease

woman in examining chair, smiling at a manIf you ask most people what health problems could show up in their mouths, they would probably talk about cavities and canker sores. However, the fact is 90% of all diseases which affect your entire body can have oral symptoms. The close relationship between the mucosa (the pink skin that lines your mouth) and your overall health means visits to your dentist are an essential part of maintaining your long-term health.

The rate of growth of the cells in the mucosa is about twice as fast as the skin on the outside of your body. When these tissues are healthy, they will have an even coloring and thickness. Health problems in other areas can mean that these tissues can’t repair themselves properly. Sores, lighter or darker areas, thickened or tough spots and infections are tip-offs to health problems affecting the whole body or rooted in specific organs.

Diseases that Affect Oral Health

A disease that affects a number of organs or the whole body is called a “systemic disease.” Both systemic diseases and diseases of specific organs can produce oral symptoms. Here’s some diseases your dentist may be able to detect with an oral exam.

Hepatitis C: White bumps on a reddened background may be a sign of Hepatitis C. Also, the mucosa may take on a yellowish tint with any chronic liver problem.

Crohn’s Disease: Mucosa can become inflamed in a cobblestone pattern.

Diabetes: Bad breath, dry mouth, loose teeth or bleeding gums can be signs of diabetes.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease: At night, digestive juices can flow back up toward the mouth and cause erosion of tooth enamel.

Heart Disease: Chronic gum inflammation (gingivitis) can be related to heart disease. It’s not clear yet if heart disease contributes to gum problems or vice versa.

Kidney Disease: This problem may result in bad breath or a metallic taste in the mouth.

Cancers That May Show Up in the Mouth

There are a number of cancers that your dentist may detect during your regular visits.

  • Mouth cancers can show up as any of these symptoms: Persistent sores (longer than two weeks), swellings or lumps, white or red patches in mouth or on lips, difficulty swallowing or hoarseness that lasts longer than usual. Bleeding from the mouth or the throat should be checked out immediately.
  • Leukemia can manifest as pale gums, bleeding from the gums and mouth sores.
  • Pancreatic cancer is associated with chronic gum disease called periodontitis. Further research is needed to better understand this relationship.

There’s also a long list of symptoms that could result from vitamin, mineral or other nutritional deficiencies, ranging from a thick, red tongue to bleeding gums. Repairing deficiencies is normally a simple matter of improving the diet or prescribing nutritional supplements.

The Importance of Early Detection and Prevention

It’s probably clear by now that your dentist can play a vital role in keeping you healthy. Be sure to maintain your checkups on the schedule recommended by your general dentist. And certainly, if you see any of these signs, make an appointment at your first opportunity to have it checked out. Many oral problems can be quickly remedied, but only your dentist can differentiate a minor problem from one that could be serious.

At Capital Oral & Facial Surgery Center, our focus is providing the highest quality of oral surgery possible for the residents of Washington, D.C. However, we don’t just consider your teeth and mouth. We feel the body should be treated as an integrated system and it’s important to consider every patient’s overall health situation. That’s why we work together with your general dentist to provide you with the highest possible oral health care for your lifetime. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to us. We look forward to hearing from you.

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