With today’s research, people do some zany things to avoid getting cancer, some of them more realistic, and some straight-up crazy. What if one of the best things you could do to help prevent cancer or catch it early was simply to visit your dentist regularly? As it turns out, in addition to keeping up with your doctor visits, seeing your dentist twice a year may help you get early diagnoses of diseases curable if caught in early stages, including some cancers.
Perhaps one of the most classic examples of this is dry mouth, or Xerostomia in medical terminology. Dentists can easily tell when your salivary glands aren’t producing as much as they should, rendering your teeth vulnerable to developing cavities from small food particles that haven’t been washed away. Dry mouth is often an early symptom of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, as spikes in blood sugar are known to result in reduced functionality of the salivary glands, and dentists are more likely to notice dry mouth than are family doctors. Patients with undiagnosed diabetes are also more likely to exhibit inflamed gums or gum disease, since the disease leaves the immune system compromised against common bacterial infections.
Dry mouth can also be a symptom of Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease that attacks mucus membranes in the eyes and mouth. Typically accompanied by another autoimmune disorder like lupus, the disease leaves the eyes and mouth dry and itchy. If the dry mouth your dentist points out is accompanied by dryness of the eyes as well as other known autoimmune disorders, you may want to check with a specialist about Sjogren’s syndrome.
Loose teeth can be more than a sign that you aren’t brushing your teeth regularly. In women, particularly those upwards of 45, loose teeth can be a symptom of osteoporosis, a condition in which the bones begin to deteriorate due to lack of calcium. Loose teeth may also be caused by kidney disease or failure. When the kidneys aren’t functioning properly, waste from the body, stored as urea and usually secreted in the form of urine, is broken down as ammonia and emits a bad odor. When in disrepair, kidneys can’t absorb calcium properly, leading to decaying bones and teeth.
Dentists can usually also tell if you’re stressed. Abnormal wear-and-tear and chipping are usually signs that there is stress in the patient’s life that takes its toll in the form of tooth clenching or grinding, known medically as bruxism. In addition to the aesthetic damages to teeth, bruxism can cause bruising of the jaw and bones if severe enough and could be an indication of an anxiety disorder caused by rushes of stress hormones, for which one could seek psychiatric help. Conversely, the grinding could be caused by the upper and lower teeth being misaligned. A trip to the orthodontist would be in store for patients with this particularly malady.
Gum color can be telling to dentists in addition to all the tell-tale signs that teeth give away. For example, when a patient’s gums are abnormally pink or even white, a dentist may suspect that the patient suffers from anemia, or a blood disorder that fails to supply adequate oxygen to tissues, causing fatigue.
Lastly, and the big one: cancer. Especially for patients who have contracted HPV, mouth and gum abnormalities may be the first sign of something worse. White or red patches in the mouth, in the throat, or on the lips are classics signs of oral cancers, as are regular bleeding from the mouth or gums and sores lasting longer than 2 weeks. As long as these symptoms are caught early, they’re generally very treatable. Twice-yearly visits to the dentist are urgent to staving off a much more serious diagnosis.