It has been said that if the eyes are the window to the soul then the mouth is the window to the body. As a dentist I have the rare opportunity to peer into the window of numerous bodies every day. For the past 25+ years of practicing dentistry and looking into the “windows of the body” of thousands of patients, I have become pretty adept at identifying signs of disease both of oral origin as well as signs in the mouth of diseases affecting other parts of the body. At least weekly, if not daily, I surprise a patient with a diagnosis of a diseased condition of their body or high risk for a disease that they were not even aware of.
We routinely look for oral signs that point to disease in other parts of the body. Many oral manifestations of disease can be self-diagnosed; consequently, everyone should be on the lookout for the following warning signs of disease:
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) – commonly known as acid reflux is characterized by small to large pits on the biting surface of back teeth. Teeth will also often be yellow in color due to worn off enamel. Sometimes patients are aware of accompanying symptoms like heart burn, persistent cough or difficulty swallowing but often there are virtually no perceived accompanying symptoms.
- Sleep breathing disorder (sleep apnea) – patient typically has narrow dental arches and a constricted throat. Patient will typically have signs of teeth grinding, including bone growth (called tori) on the roof of the mouth and inside the lower dental arch next to the tongue. This disease has also been linked to heart disease, diabetes and strokes.
- Addiction (drug and alcohol) – history of drug abuse will have severe oral manifestations, including rampant decay and stained, rotting and crumbling teeth.
- Eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, binge eating) – eating disorders lead to poor nutrition which causes bleeding gums and dry mouth. Forced vomiting will erode enamel from the backs of upper front teeth and cause increased teeth sensitivity.
- Diabetes – periodontal disease (disease of the gum and bones) is a precursor to diabetes. Signs of periodontal disease are red, swollen and bleeding gums. There is sometimes pain but not always. Teeth may move and adversely affect the patient’s bite. Bad breath is almost always present. Other oral manifestations of diabetes include: diminished salivary flow (dry mouth), burning sensation in the mouth or tongue and enlarged salivary glands.
- Parkinson’s Disease – dry mouth is a common symptom of this disease.
- Alzheimer’s Disease – current research indicates a possible link between this disease and periodontal disease. People with Alzheimer’s are found to have more periodontal disease related bacteria in their brains than people without Alzheimer’s. It is believed that bacteria from gum and bone disease get into the brain to cause inflammation and damage.
- Anemia – this disease is caused by an iron deficiency which causes a pale-colored tongue, pallor and general malaise.
- Celiac Disease – this is an inherited, immune system disorder in which the proteins found in certain foods cause damage to the lining of the small intestine. Common oral manifestations are canker sores.
- Heart Disease – the bacteria found in periodontal disease are shown to have a direct link to coronary artery disease.
- Osteoporosis – this disease causes changes in the bone surrounding and supporting teeth.
- Erectile Dysfunction (ED) – poor dental hygiene can be associated with ED. Men with ED are three times more likely to have periodontal disease. Researchers believe that the bacteria in periodontal disease adversely affects blood flow to the penis.
- Hypertension – while this disease has no oral manifestations, we routinely diagnose hypertension in patients who had no idea they were afflicted with this dangerous condition. We are able to do this because we routinely take a blood pressure reading on every patient before administering anesthesia.
At CreateSmiles we are not only interested in the health and well-being of our patients’ oral cavity but in the overall body health as well. We are passionate about healthy living, good nutrition and, of course, vigilant care to the oral cavity. Our goal is to help each and every one of our patients achieve optimal dental health through proper brushing and flossing and regular visits to the dental hygienist for professional cleaning, disease screening and healthcare.