If your teeth could talk - the mouth offers clues to disorders and diseases and dentists could play a larger role in patient care.
The eyes may be the window to the soul, but the mouth provides an even better view of the body as a whole. Some of the earliest signs of diabetes, cancer, pregnancy, immune disorders, hormone imbalances and drug issues show up in the gums, teeth and tongue - sometimes long before a patient knows anything is wrong. There's also growing evidence that oral health problems, particularly gum disease, can harm a patient's general health as well, raising the risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, pneumonia and pregnancy complications.
Such findings are fueling a push for dentists to play a greater role in patients' overall health. It's an opportunity to tell a patient, 'You know, I am concerned. I think you really need to see a primary care provider,' so you are moving in the direction of better health. Some of the most distinctive problems come from uncontrolled diabetes. The gum tissue has a glistening shiny look where it meets the teeth. It bleeds easily and pulls away from the bone. An estimated six million Americans have diabetes but don't know it - and several studies suggest that dentists could help alert them. It's not just that the same lifestyle habits contribute to both gum disease and high blood sugar; the two conditions exacerbate each other. Inflammation from infected gums makes it more difficult for people with diabetes to control their blood sugar level, and high blood sugar accelerates tooth decay and gum disease, creating more inflammation.
There is also growing evidence that the link between periodontal disease and cardiovascular problems is not a coincidence either. Inflammation in the gums raises C-reactive protein, thought to be a culprit in heart disease. Oral bacteria has been found in the plaques that block arteries. Bacteria from the mouth can travel through the bloodstream and cause problems, elsewhere, which is why people contemplatng elective surgery are advised to have any needed dental work performed first.
Many medications, from antidepressants to chemotherapy drugs can cause dry mouth, which can cause cavities to skyrocket, since saliva typically acts as a protective coating for teeth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that dentists offer HIV testing, because some of the first symptoms appear in the mouth., including fungal infections and lesions. Dentists can do the HIV test with a simple mouth swab and get test results in 20 minutes.