Oral Health and Overall Health

Oral Health and Overall Health

The connection: oral health and overall health

Your dentist is a disease detective. Did you know that your mouth holds clues to what’s going on with your overall health?

During a routine checkup, your dentist can search for clues that may point to other serious health issues. Dentists can detect more than 120 signs and symptoms of nondental diseases by examining your mouth, head and neck. Plus, more than 90 percent of systemic diseases have oral manifestations. This means that if something is wrong in your mouth, then something could be wrong in another part of your body.

Dentists can also perform thorough oral cancer exams, including inspection of the oral cavity and neck. Since cancers of the mouth, tongue and jaw are usually first discovered during dental exams, dentists are at the forefront for saving lives.

Oral clues that may indicate a serious problem:1

  • Anemia: Burning, fiery red tongue, inflammation of the corners of the mouth or pale gum tissues.
  • Diabetes: Dry mouth, distinctive breath odor, burning tongue, high rate of tooth decay, inflammation and infections in the mouth.
  • Anorexia nervosa and bulimia: Chemical erosion of tooth enamel, fillings that appear to be raised above the eroded tooth surfaces, sensitive teeth, enlargement of the parotid glands making the face look full and round, and sweet breath aroma.
  • Kidney failure: Delayed tooth development in children, dry mouth, odor, metallic taste and ulcers on the tongue and gums.
  • Deficient immune system (HIV positive): Unexplained sore(s), red mouth due to opportunistic yeast infections (thrush mouth) and nonremovable white areas on the side of the tongue.
  • Heart disease: Pain radiating to the jaw caused by insufficient oxygen to the heart muscle.

This information is available to download as an oral health flier.

1 Steven L. Bricker, Robert P. Langlais, and Craig S. Miller, Oral Diagnosis, Oral Medicine and Treatment Planning, (Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger, 1994).

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