If someone were to ask you what you do to stay healthy, you might reply that you visit your family physician at least once per year for a checkup (and as soon as possible if you are injured or become ill). You might note that you attempt to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, exercise (at least a little), and avoid or try to limit your nicotine and alcohol intake.

Photograph of a dentist showing an older female patient an x-ray in a dental office.

If you’re like most people, you probably wouldn’t think to mention your dental care regimen as a contributing factor to your overall health. After all, the degree to which you do or do not take care of your teeth affects only your teeth and gums, right? Actually, that is incorrect. There are several ways your oral health affects your overall health. Being diligent about getting regular dental checkups and professional cleanings, and immediately addressing any problems involving your teeth and gums, can improve your health significantly.

Dental Problems Can Contribute to Heart Disease

You may be surprised to learn that plaque – the bacteria-laden sticky substance that can build up on your teeth – causes much more than tooth decay. Poor oral health, research indicates, has been linked to heart disease. When plaque builds up in the mouth, it causes inflammation (swelling) of the gums. In severe cases, plaque buildup can result in periodontitis (infected, pus-filled pockets within the gums).

Because the gums are full of blood vessels, if they become infected with bacteria and suffer even a small cut or abrasion, bacteria can enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body. When this bacteria infiltrates the heart it may contribute to hardening and/or narrowing of the arteries, leading to heart failure, stroke, etc.

Dental Problems Can Worsen Diabetes

According to the American Diabetes Association, research suggests that serious gum disease (resulting from not being diligent about preventive and corrective dental care) may affect diabetics’ ability to control their blood glucose levels. Any infection, including gum disease, can contribute to an increase in blood sugar levels. This makes it harder to control the progression of diabetes and makes diabetics more susceptible to serious complications.

Regular Dental Care Can Alert You to Serious Health Concerns

If achieving a healthy, white smile and fresh breath isn’t a compelling enough reason to have regular dental checkups, here’s another reason that might convince you to book your next dental appointment. During the course of a comprehensive dental exam, your dentist will also be screening you for oral cancers and other health conditions you wouldn’t necessarily notice on your own. 

According to Delta Dental, more than 100 diseases may result in symptoms in and around the mouth and jaw. When you get a dental checkup, your dentists isn’t just looking for tooth decay. He or she is also keeping an eye out for signs that could indicate serious health problems elsewhere in the body. Some of the diseases that dentists often identify in patients before anyone else include:

  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): This disorder occurs when low-pH stomach acid is regurgitated into the esophagus where it dissolves tooth enamel and creates lesions.

  • Crohn’s Disease: Many patients with this inflammatory bowel disorder develop telltale sores in their mouths. Sometimes, those sores are present even before other symptoms of the disease are present.

  • Anemia: This disorder signifies lack of sufficient red blood cells in the body. Dentists are often tipped off by noting a very pale color to the lining of a patient’s mouth or a tongue that is smooth in texture.

  • Leukemia: One of the earliest detectable signs of leukemia is enlargement of the gums. An article in the Journal of Periodontal and Implant Science details two cases in which dentists suspected early onset leukemia, and referred those patients to specialists who confirmed the diagnosis and were able to initiate treatment while the disease was still in its early stage.

  • Osteoporosis: As part of preventive dental care, patients receive X-rays annually or biannually. Dark spots on tooth X-rays can indicate air pockets that have formed as a result of bone loss.  

If You Value Your Health, Be Diligent About Your Dental Care Regimen!

There’s a saying that “the eyes are the windows to the soul.” Perhaps. But the mouth is a telling window to the health of the overall body. Next time you’re tempted to forego your 6-month dental checkup because “everything is fine” think again. You never know what changes are occurring in your body. Keeping that dental appointment could one day save your life!

At Family Dental Care of Bellevue, we are committed to providing quality dental care to our patients and their families. We are proud to have been voted one of the best dental offices in Washington State. If you are ready to take the first steps toward improving your dental health, we invite you to call 425-643-5778 today to make an appointment for your initial consultation.

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