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Detect disease early in the dental office
Because many diseases can cause specific signs and symptoms in and around the mouth and jaw, dentists see clues that may point to critical health issues. As a result, increasing numbers of dentists are urging their patients to seek medical tests that seem unrelated to their dental checkups.
More than 120 disease signs and symptoms can now be detected through a routine oral exam.1,2 Regular dental checkups are more important than ever, not only for oral health but for overall health.
Dentists also perform thorough oral cancer examinations, including inspection of the oral cavity and neck. Since cancers of the mouth, tongue and jaw are usually first discovered during dental examinations, dentists are at the forefront for saving lives due to serious health conditions.
Oral clues that may indicate a serious health problem:
- Anemia: Burning, fiery red tongue, inflammation of the corners of 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: Retarded 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), non-removable white areas on the sides of the tongue.
- Heart disease: Pain radiating to the jaw caused by insufficient oxygen to the heart muscle.
- J Am Dent Assoc, Vol 134, No suppl_1, 41S-48S. 2003 American Dental Association.
- Dental Management of The Medically Compromised Patient, 7th Edition, 2008, Mosby Elsevier, St. Louis, MO.
- Steven L. Bricker, Robert P. Langlais, and Craig S. Miller, Oral Diagnosis, Oral Medicine and Treatment Planning (Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger, 1994).
A number of recent studies have revealed a link between periodontal (gum) disease and heart disease. And since heart disease is the leading cause of death for Americans, it's time to brush up on the facts.1
Gum disease can occur without any evident warning signs and is often painless, but several indicators can signal the disease. Talk to your dentist if you notice any of these indicators:2
- Gums that bleed easily
- Red, swollen, tender gums
- Gums that have pulled away from the teeth
- Persistent bad breath or bad taste in the mouth
- Permanent teeth that are loose or separating
- Any change in the way the teeth fit together when biting
- Any change in the fit of partial dentures
Research shows a correlation between gum disease and an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease.3 Specifically, researchers found that gum disease plays a role in blood vessel dysfunction, a condition that improves with intensive periodontal treatment (which may include scaling and root planing, locally administered antibiotics and tooth extraction), according to a study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.4
These studies, along with other research, confirm that dental benefits continue to play an important part in maintaining overall health. Regular brushing, flossing, and dental checkups are more important than ever for your heart and general wellness.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/Features/HeartMonth/
- American Academy of Periodontology, http://www.perio.org/consumer/gum-disease-symptoms.htm, accessed March 2010.
- Beck JD, Garcia R, Heiss G, Vokonas PS, Off enbacher S: Periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease. J. Periodontology 67,1123-1137 (1996).
- New England Journal of Medicine, http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/short/356/9/911.
According to the American Cancer Society, more than a third of all women and nearly half of all men in the United States will hear the devastating news of a cancer diagnosis during their lifetimes.1 This group includes the nearly 36,000 Americans who are diagnosed with oral cancer each year.2 Yet oral cancer is one of the more treatable cancers when it is detected in its early stages.
Why early detection matters
Less than half of all oral cancer patients fully recover, and those who do often experience facial disfigurement or other life-altering complications. More than 7,500 Americans die from oral cancer each year, and the five-year survival rate is only 60 percent.2 Early diagnosis of oral cancer is the answer; if caught early, the five-year survival rate jumps to 80–90 percent.3
What you should know
Oral cancer can occur in any part of your mouth, including your gums, cheeks, tongue, and lips. It can be difficult to detect because it often begins as a small red or white spot . Other suspicious symptoms can include mouth sores that do not heal.
People who use tobacco products or consume excessive amounts of alcohol tend to have a higher risk for oral cancer, and those who use tobacco products and consume excessive alcohol have the highest risk. Yet many oral cancer patients have no known risk factors. According to recent research, the fastest growing segments of the U.S. population being diagnosed are non-smokers under the age of fifty.3
What you can do
Many people visit their dentist more frequently than their physician. This puts dental professionals in a unique position to detect many diseases, including oral cancer.
In addition to doing a thorough examination, your dentist can use a quick and painless diagnostic tool called a brush biopsy to test any unexplained red or white spots in your mouth. This tool can identify and analyze both precancerous and cancerous cells. Other types of biopsies may also be done if the dentist believes they are indicated.
- American Cancer Society, Cancer Statistics 2009 Presentation, http://www.cancer.org, accessed March 2010.
- American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2009. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2009.
- Oral Cancer Foundation, http://oralcancerfoundation.org, accessed March 2010.
Here are some things to keep in mind to help you maintain a healthy smile as you grow older:
- Because dental decay is still common among older adults, it is especially important to brush at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, particularly at bedtime.
- Some medications or medical conditions can cause dry mouth as a result of a lack of saliva. Saliva has anti-bacterial properties and helps protect against tooth decay. Drinking water, chewing sugarless gum, and sucking on sugarless candy can help restore moisture. A dentist can also recommend mouth rinses or artificial saliva.
- The incidence of gum disease (periodontitis) is greater among older adults; symptoms may include bleeding, tender or swollen gums, loose teeth, and bad breath. Regular flossing, combined with daily brushing, can help minimize or prevent this from happening.
- Receding gums can result in the root of the tooth being exposed and susceptible to decay. Using fluoride toothpaste and mouth rinses can help prevent or reduce cavities on root surfaces.
- The use of tobacco and alcohol can cause tooth-related problems, mask gum inflammation, and increase the risk of developing oral cancer. It’s never too late to quit and reduce these risks.
A daily effort to keep your mouth clean, combined with regular dental visits, can help keep your smile healthy.
*Renaissance Internal Data, 2016
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