How a Trip to the Dentist Could Save Your Life

Regular trips to the dentist can do more than keep your teeth healthy. They might save your life one day. Find out how your dentist can spot signs of sickness.

dentists save lives

 

Image from Loop 23 on Flickr.

As well know, visiting the dentist should be a regular and normal part of life as a human being. Yes, our teeth are rather magical and can do some pretty extraordinary things (they certainly bounce back quickly from most kinds of damage and trauma), but they still need all the help that they can get. Our sugary diets and fondness for the sweet things in life mean that our teeth are constantly in a race to keep up with cavities and decay.

We can help them to win this race by attending regular dental check-ups and examinations, even if there are no obvious signs of trouble. In fact, many people seem to think that dental appointments are only necessary if you have a toothache or are developing a cavity. This is simply not true. In the same way that routine physicals are designed to keep an eye on overall health, the purpose of dental exams is to prevent damage.

As they say, the best defense is a good offense and nowhere is this more evident than the mouth. The condition of your teeth and gums can say an awful lot about the health of your body overall. There is a good reason why many underlying health conditions have strong links with decay and dental degeneration; it’s because the mouth and the body are one. If you look after your teeth, your general health will improve.

For at risk groups, developing a solid and robust dental health routine is even more vital. If you have diabetes, for example, your needs are a little more intensive than others. You should really be attending check-ups at least two to three times every year, so that a dentist can spot signs of trouble early. For older patients, regular attendance is similarly important. As the mouth ages, so too do the gums and teeth and the tissues surrounding them begin to recede.

To combat this recession and make sure that it does not turn into tooth loss, you need to be seeing a dental specialist at least twice a year. Your dentist will be able to give you a wealth of advice on everything from brushing and flossing to tooth friendly diets, dental treatments and repair options, and the impact of prescription medications on oral health. Your specialist is there to be a hub of information, so do not waste this most valuable of resources.

This guide to dental check-ups and routine examinations will show you exactly why a solid dental health routine could save your life one day.

Your Mouth is the Biggest of Snitches

It might sound strange, but you can trust your mouth to be one hell of a snitch when it comes to physical health. You may have heard stories about tumours and other serious conditions being detected by eye examinations before, but the same is actually true of dental check-ups. Over the years, thousands of lucky patients have been spared the grim realities of a late stage diagnosis by an inquisitive dentist with an eye for trouble.

It happens all the time. This kind of situation is especially common in children and teenagers too. As their teeth and gums are still growing rapidly, any unhealthy changes can usually be spotted quickly. And while it is not the job of a dentist to know exactly what the problem is (it is hardly fair to expect your specialist to be your doctor too), what they can do is advise you to visit the doctor if they suspect that something is wrong.

This is how many patients end up with very early tumour diagnoses. For example, about three years ago, a high profile story made the news. It featured a twelve year old girl who had been referred to the doctor by her dentist, after the man had spotted some strange symptoms in her mouth. It turned out that the girl has a large tumour on her pancreas and, as it was caught early, it was successfully removed and the girl recovered.

So, do not be tempted to scoff at claims that a trip to the dentist could save your life one day. We take it for granted that our bodies work in the way that they do. We rarely spend time trying to understand their warning signals and, as a result, we miss out on many of the things that could make staying healthy easier. Visiting the dentist is one of these things, so you really do need to make time for it – with only two visits per year, it shouldn’t be all that difficult anyway.

Recognising Warning Signals from the Mouth

The best part about making dental check-ups a regular aspect of your overall health routine is the fact that you do not have to put any of the work in. This is the job of your dentist. It is their responsibility to spot signs of trouble and recognise the warnings signals generated by the mouth and teeth. While this does not mean that regular physical exams should be avoided, dental appointments can be an easy way to enhance their value.

If you keep up with appointments, your dentist will be able to build up a good picture of your mouth. Yes, it feels strange knowing that another person is so intimate with your oral tissues, but the advantages are clearly worthwhile. Your specialist will use their keen eye and attention to detail to assess things like the colour, thickness, texture, and shape of your teeth and gums. If any of these characteristics are askew, they will do their best to find out why this is the case.

If you have not been to the dentist in a long time, however, you are probably already exhibiting symptoms of some oral conditions, whether it be tooth decay or halitosis. The likelihood that any of these conditions are related to more serious underlying health conditions is extremely small, but the possibility remains. So, book an appointment at your local surgery or clinic as soon as you can. At the very least, it will put your mind at ease.

These are a few of the things that your dentist will be looking out for during a routine check-up or examination.

Bad Breath (Halitosis)

For the most part, bad breath is caused by poor dental hygiene. If you do not brush and floss regularly, bacteria builds in the mouth and accumulates at the back of the tongue. It then produces a pretty nasty whiff. However, in some rare cases, persistent bad breath may be a sign of something more sinister. For example, stomach and liver dysfunction.

This is particularly common in diabetics and it indicates a lapse in sugar regulation and insulin control. If this is the case, it is imperative that you talk to a dentist, so that they can make a diagnosis (if possible) and refer you to a doctor.

Bleeding Gums (Gingivitis)

Like bad breath, bleeding gums are a common problem. This does not mean that they should ever be ignored. Ordinarily, they indicate infection or tooth decay, so even if there are no underlying health issues, you still require dental treatment.

For diabetics, swollen and bleeding gums are even more common, so regular check-ups are needed to keep an eye on the health of oral tissues. The same rules apply for anybody struggling with an eating disorder and for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Female gums are more prone to problems, because hormone fluctuations create chemical imbalances in the tissues. So, once again, regular exams and check-ups are the best way to make sure that gum disease does not take a hold or lead to degenerative tooth loss.

Canker Sores (Oral Lesions)

You are very likely to have experienced a canker sore even if you have never heard the word before. These minor lesions appear in and around the teeth, usually within the tissue above and below the lips and inside the cheeks.

They take the form of little white spots, but they sting if you touch them with your tongue and they can make the tissue quite tender. While canker sores are nothing to worry about by themselves, chronic outbreaks can be a sign of a mineral deficiency.

If you are prone to these oral lesions, it could be a good idea to see your doctor about getting tested for gluten intolerance or celiac disease. You may not have either of these conditions and just be a little unlucky, but it is always best to be sure.

Cracked or Sharp Teeth

The majority of cracks and fractures within teeth are caused by chewing or biting pressures. So, you might be eating popcorn and suddenly crack or chip a tooth on a hard morsel. Or, you could be nibbling on ice and give yourself a dental facture.

In some rarer cases, however, teeth can be weakened and prone to cracking because of a stomach condition called GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). It causes stomach acids to build up and actually emerge back through the mouth. As these substances are very corrosive, they have the potential to eat away at teeth and give them jagged edges.

Persistent Gum Disease

As aforementioned, bleeding in the gums is a clear indication of gum disease. But gum disease itself can be a symptom of many different problems, particularly if it persists even after treatment from a dentist.

Some of the conditions which are commonly linked with gum disease include diabetes and coronary disease. For diabetics, the issue is a reduced capacity to fight off infection in the mouth. Once a gum problem takes hold, it can be very difficult to conquer it. For patients with heart problems, chronic gum disease can be a sign of very serious degeneration.

Poor Dental Health Overall

For older patients, a lapse in dental care is often a sign of dementia. As brushing and flossing is such a fundamental part of human life, it is very unusual for a person to forget to clean their teeth unless they are having problems with memory and routine.

If a relative or somebody that you know seems to be having trouble with their teeth, but appears to be neglecting their oral health, it may be worth keeping a close eye on them. While poor dental health is usually not enough of a sign to make a dementia diagnosis, it will almost certainly be accompanied by other symptoms if the condition is present.

Gum Recession and Degenerative Tooth Loss

In some rare cases, recession of the gums and persistent tooth loss can indicate the presence of osteoporosis. This condition causes weak bones, so it can be fairly serious. It is most common in middle aged females.

Swollen Tongue

It is possible for your mouth to be a little too rich in colour. No, really. Your oral tissues should be a healthy shade of pink. If there are red patches in your gums or on your tongue, you may be lacking in B6 vitamins. This may also be the case if your tongue appears to be slightly swollen or too round and fat.

Persistent Mouth Sores

While the occasional canker sore is nothing much to worry about, chronic sores of any other kind can be an indication of mouth cancer. It is very important that you get these checked out by your dentist as quickly as possible.

The chance of them being related to mouth cancer is quite small, but it is always best to put your mind at ease and make sure anyway. Then, if a problem is identified, it is caught early and can be treated very fast.  

Understanding Why Good Dental Health is Essential

The trick to maintaining both oral and overall health is simply to keep a close eye on any unexplained changes. You don’t have to worry all the time about whether or not nagging aches or strange sensations are a sign of something more serious. They usually aren’t, but keeping up with regular dental appointments is an easy way to make sure.

 

 

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