|Oral health means more than just
an attractive smile. Poor oral health and untreated oral diseases and
conditions can have a significant impact on quality of life. And in many
cases, the condition of the mouth mirrors the condition of the body as a
whole. Recent reports indicate a relationship between periodontal (gum)
disease and stroke, heart disease, and pre-term low-birth-weight babies.
Likewise, more than 90 percent of all systemic diseases have oral
manifestations, meaning your dentist may be the first health care
provider to diagnose a health problem.
What problems can poor oral health cause?
According to the recently released
Surgeon General's report on oral health in America, a large percentage
of the population suffers from a reduced quality of life due to oral and
facial pain. This pain is largely due to infections of the gums that
support the teeth and can lead to tooth loss. More than 75 percent of
the population is affected by some type of periodontal disease or
Recent reports show that infections
in the mouth can affect major organs. One example is bacterial
endocarditis, a condition in which the lining of the heart and heart
valves become inflamed. Poor mouth care also can contribute to oral
cancer, which now takes more lives annually than cervical or skin
In addition, poor oral health
affects the digestive process, which begins with physical and chemical
activities in the mouth. Problems here can lead to intestinal failure,
Irritable Bowel Syndrome and other problems.
What symptoms from other diseases
show up in the mouth?
Mouth tissues reflect symptoms of
other problems. In addition, many diseases can be diagnosed in their
early stages through an oral examination. These diseases may be
characterized by swollen gums, mouth ulcers, dry mouth and/or excessive
gum problems. Some of these diseases include diabetes, leukemia, cancer,
heart disease and kidney disease.
What can I do?
Seeing a dentist every six months
can help identify diseases in their earliest stages. It also is
important to provide your dentist with a complete medical/dental history
and to inform him or her of any recent problems, even if they seem
unrelated to your mouth.
What can my dentist do?
A regular exam allows your dentist
to keep your mouth in tip-top shape and watch for developments that may
point to problems elsewhere in your body. A dental exam also picks up on
poor nutrition and hygiene, growth and development problems and improper
jaw alignment. According to a recent survey, 90 percent of dentists said
they counsel patients on home care for special oral health care needs
resulting from chemotherapy or head and neck radiation therapy.
Eighty-seven percent of dentists surveyed responded that they counsel
patients on tobacco use, more than half provide direct counseling to
patients. Thirty-eight percent of respondents also provide literature on
the dangers of tobacco and information on tobacco cessation programs to
patients, 17 percent refer patients to their primary care physician, and
14 percent directly refer patients to cessation services.