It’s easy to think that our oral healthcare is separate and distinct from our overall healthcare. Even the health insurance companies in Canada distinguish between the two, putting an emphasis on overall physical care and categorizing dental care as an extra benefit, which results in many people overall healthcare coverage but not dental. This does an enormous disservice to the population: oral health and overall health are not only inextricably linked, they’re reliant on the other, most importantly with regard to early detection of developing problems.
Dental care, for example, isn’t only related to issues in and of the mouth. If a disease or illness is in its early stages of development in a person’s body, long before symptoms begin to manifest in the body, many times signs become apparent in the mouth. It’s not uncommon for dental professionals to be the first physicians to notice something awry in a patient that suggests a systemic problem. For this reason, the mouth is often referred to as “the window to the body.” In addition to regular check ups and cleanings being important for your oral health, they’re also beneficial insofar as should anything irregular show up during your exam, the dentist can determine what may be wrong. Catching illness or disease so early on increases the chance of treating that illness before it worsens or becomes widespread.
Erosion on the teeth can be an indicator for several different problems that warrant further exploration. If the patient is vomiting regularly due to bulimia, stomach acid may be wearing down the tooth enamel. If the disease is left untreated, it could ultimately cause deterioration of the enamel, inflammation of the esophagus and chronic acid reflux in addition to a host of other ailments, some of which may permanently damage the body or even cause death. GERD is another commonly diagnosed condition from enamel erosion. GERD, or Gastroesophageal reflux disease, can greatly affect the condition of the teeth due to excess acid coming up into the mouth. The condition is treatable with medication, but the patient should then be under a physician’s supervision to prevent long-term damage. Acidic erosion may also simply stem from too many acidic or sugary drinks such as pop or juice. And wear on the enamel in certain patterns shows the dentist that there patient grinds or presses her teeth together at night. If there are accompanying headaches, tooth sensitivity, gum recession and a feeling of fullness in the ears, the dentist may recommend the patient be fitted with a night guard and try relaxation techniques before sleep to reduce the behaviour and prevent further wear. In all cases, after seeing such indicators, the dentist can assess the patient’s overall health and honestly and candidly work to resolve the issue with the patient before it becomes worse.
Alternatively, if you have an existing condition, revealing it to your dentist will allow her to be on alert for specific oral issues that tend to plague those with that condition. Certain conditions leave patients more vulnerable to gum disease or cavities; for example, diabetes sufferers are commonly affected by far greater instance of gum disease, abscesses and root caries. These patients are advised to see the dentist more frequently to keep these issues under control. All in all, being aware of any pre-existing conditions will enable the dentist to take extra care and precaution with regard to those side effects that arise from any disorder or disease.
Oral health and overall health are not mutually exclusive; the body is a system in which each part works organically with the others and affects the others. Caught early enough, these situations are either preventable or treatable. If you maintain your regular dental visits, see something unusual happening to your teeth, gums, tongue or throat, or just have a suspicion that something isn’t quite right, please see your dentist. She is equipped with the knowledge and training to catch these and other issues early on, saving you further difficulties down the line.