Dentists aren’t just searching for gum disease or cavities when they do an examination. People think their dentist is only looking at teeth, but they’re typically examining all of the soft tissues in the mouth.
This examination allows dentists to identify a number of surprising conditions, possibly before you or your doctor are aware of them. Here are the most common diseases your dentist might detect.
Crohn's Disease: Up to 20 percent of patients with this inflammatory bowel disorder develop lesions in their mouth that may even precede symptoms such as cramps and diarrhea. If your dentist suspects Crohn’s disease, X-rays will be performed to rule out gum disease.
Diabetes: Bleeding, receding, dry gums, dry mouth, and wiggly teeth are all typical oral symptoms of patients with diabetes, who are more likely to get gum disease. However, many of these symptoms result from simple bad hygiene, so dentists may not assume it’s diabetes unless other risk factors are there.
Oral Cancer: Oral cancer is the sixth most-common cancer in America, with 30,000 new cases reported every year. Oral cancer shows up as white and red lesions, usually on the tongue, the floor of the mouth, and the soft palate tissues in the back of the tongue. Early on, the lesions are usually painless and tough for patients to spot themselves.
Anemia: If the lining of a patient’s mouth is very pale, dentists might suspect anemia, a condition in which the body doesn’t have enough red blood cells circulating. As well, the tongue can lose its typical bumpy texture and become smooth looking.
GERD (Gastrointestinal Reflux Disease): Stomach acid with a pH that’s lower than vinegar that regurgitates into the esophagus and mouth can dissolve tooth enamel and create erosive lesions near the back of the mouth. While many people with GERD recognize it by the uncomfortable heartburn symptoms, some patients only experience GERD while they sleep and may not know they have it.
Intense Stress: The state of your mouth may indicate that stress is taking a more serious toll than you realize. Many people may grind their teeth in response to stress, which can wear down and chip your pearly whites. Most patients tend to do it at night while they’re sleeping, and a customized night guard to wear while you sleep may help.