Open your mouth and learn about your health

In adults, inflamed or receding gums, cavities, tooth loss, gingivitis and other dental dilemmas can indicate major health problems

by Joanne Henning Tedesco —

If you want to know more about your physical health, just open your mouth and look at your teeth and gums. In adults, inflamed or receding gums, cavities, tooth loss, gingivitis and other dental dilemmas can indicate major health problems like heart disease, vitamin deficiencies, cancer, diabetes or the risk of having a premature or low-birth-weight baby.

Usually, these dental problems result from not brushing well or flossing regularly. But, it is possible for regular brushing or flossing to hurt your overall health because, if there is any inflammation in the mouth, every time you brush your teeth, you put some of that bacteria into your bloodstream.

This may explain a recent study in the journal Circulation that links any of five common dental problems with an increased risk of heart disease. The conclusion of the study: Dental problems proved to be stronger predictors of heart disease than more traditionally used risks factors, such as low “good” cholesterol, high triglycerides or high levels of fibrinogen, a clotting factor.

A dentist is often the first to identify a systemic health problem because of what they see in the patient’s mouth. As more evidence around this predictive ability accumulates, more dentists will look at oral health to search for possible problems affecting the body.

For example, undiagnosed diabetes or poor blood sugar control in diagnosed diabetics can be identified by several dental woes. Diabetics tend to get periodontal disease at a rate three to four times higher than people without diabetes; however, when their condition is controlled with medication, diet or other treatments, their periodontal condition usually stabilizes.

Additionally, uncontrolled diabetes impairs white blood cells, the main defense against bacterial infection — and periodontal disease results from bacterial infection. Besides gum problems, diabetes also can produce dry mouth, thrush, a burning sensation or a distinct, sweet odor, called acetone breath. Breath that smells really bad could indicate infection of the nose, mouth, lungs or stomach.

 

Joanne Henning Tedesco is editor of AzNetNews.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 25, Number 3, June/July 2006.

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