Oral health is an important component of your overall health. In fact, the mouth is known as “the window to the body” because it can show signs of nutritional deficiencies, illnesses and other infections. When dentists peer into your mouth, they don’t just see how well you’ve been brushing and whether you’ve really been flossing. Your mouth, as it turns out, can be a window into your overall health.
Here is a list of things that your dentist can tell just by looking in your mouth:
“Nearly 40 percent of women will develop gingivitis during their pregnancy,” says Glen Stephenson, D.M.D., of Prevention Dental in Boise, Idaho. “This is caused by increased progesterone, which facilitates the growth of bacteria, causing gingivitis. Some women will develop a deep red lump on their gums called a pregnancy tumor or pyogenic granuloma.” (This type of tumor is completely benign and will go away after the pregnancy is over.) Stirneman adds that most women are typically pretty far along before their gums start bleeding, so it’s not as though a dentist will magically “discover” that a patient is pregnant.
You may have an eating disorder
Eating disorders such as Anorexia and Bulimia and can damage your teeth in many ways. Anorexia deprives the body from certain nutrients that are essential for the teeth. Bulimia can cause enamel erosion, causing cavities and even tooth loss.
You have diabetes
People that suffer from diabetes have a higher risk of developing periodontal disease and dry mouth. This can cause inflammation of the gums, painful chewing difficulties and even tooth loss.
You Have a Sinus Infection
“Often patients will call saying that they need a root canal,” explains Ira Handschuh, D.D.S., of The Dental Design Center in New York, “when in fact it’s actually a sinus infection and not a tooth problem at all.” The reason, he explains, is because the roots of the top teeth are positioned in the same area as the floor of the sinuses. And both sinus infections and toothaches can show symptoms of pressure. “A simple home test is to have a patient bend over to touch their toes,” he says. “If the pressure or pain increases just by doing this, the pain is most likely not tooth-related and he should see his ENT or primary care physician before coming to the dentist.”
You have poor dental hygiene
Dentists can easily see if you have been practicing oral hygiene correctly. People with poor dental hygiene have plaque buildup, cavities and even gum disease.
You used to suck your thumb
Some children suck their thumb for a limited period while others wait longer to stop this habit. Once the permanent teeth come in, this habit may cause problems with mouth growth and alignment of teeth.
GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease causes acid from your stomach to bubble up into your esophagus, giving you heartburn, chest pain, and trouble swallowing. The acid can also lead to bad breath, canker sores, and dry mouth.
It’s not always easy to pinpoint the problem as GERD just by looking, but your dentist may be able to narrow it down by noting any medications you’re on. “It’s always important to tell your dentist about any medications you’re taking, even over-the-counter,” says Cram.
Sure, your regular dental checkups can reveal cavities and evidence that you haven’t (or have) been flossing as much as you should. But during those visits, your dentist can also find signs of head and neck cancers, including cancers of the mouth and throat.
In the mouth, Cram says, dentists scan for “any red or white spots that are abnormal, any ulcerated areas in the cheeks, lumps, bumps, and swelling that shouldn’t be there.”
Dentists usually also check the glands around your neck for any sign of swelling that could indicate an illness, including cancer.