The next time you are in the dentist’s office for a cleaning, you might want to thank your dental professional for poking around in your mouth and giving it the once-over.
As awkward as the probing is, you ought to know that she can detect a number of things -- not just gum disease, gingivitis and cavities, but also possible digestive problems.
Diabetes, for instance, is often associated with periodontal disease, because both conditions signal more inflammation than usual in your body. Diabetes puts you at risk for gum disease and, in turn, gum disease makes it hard to control blood sugar. Those with diabetes have to take extra care in cleaning their teeth.
In addition, a look at your mouth might give clues as to the presence of harmful bacteria getting into your digestive system or to digestive problems linked to inflammation.
It’s been said that more than 90 percent of all systemic diseases (those involving many organs or the whole body) show up somehow in the oral cavity with things like swollen gums, mouth ulcers and dry mouth. Any such abnormalities can be evidence of pancreatic cancer, leukemia, kidney disease or heart disease, among other conditions.
If a dentist doesn’t like what she sees, she might suspect poor overall health. On the other hand, a healthy mouth usually reflects a healthy lifestyle.
And have you noticed how your dental professional will check for jaw clicking and the way you open and close your mouth? An article for registered hygienists discussing temporomandibular disorders mentions the link between jaw problems and non-dental conditions, one of them being irritable bowel syndrome. One theory is that the connection might have to do with an increased sensitivity to pain.
Keeping an eye on dental health is important to anyone at risk for Crohn’s disease, one of the two major forms of inflammatory bowel disease. The condition starts with damage to the intestinal wall and the resulting ulcers can easily spread. Outside of the digestive tract, Crohn’s disease can cause inflammation in the joints, skin, eyes, liver, bile duct and, last but not least, the mouth.
Remember that opening your mouth to swallow food and liquids is the first step in your body’s intricate system of digestion, so it makes sense to monitor your mouth for abnormalities and for possible clues to problems farther down the line in your intestines, kidney, pancreas and other digestive system organs.
An oral exam is a good reason to make regular visits to the dentist. Of course, careful flossing and brushing habits will contribute to a favorable checkup.
“Healthy smile, healthy you: The importance of oral health.” Delta Dental. Web. 19 March 2012.
“Oral Health: Insights Into Your Overall Health.” WebMD. Web. 19 March 2012.
“The Complexities of TMD.” RDH Magazine. Web. 19 March 2012.
“Crohn’s Disease.” eMedicineHealth. Web. 19 March 2012.
Reviewed March 20, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith