Your mouth can reveal serious health issues
Want to prevent heart disease? Take a look at your teeth.
A study published in October in the American Journal of Medicine found that those who used toothpaste that targeted plaque, and therefore were more diligent in brushing their teeth, lowered their levels of heart-attack-triggering inflammation. The study’s authors found that keeping up the habit could lead to a decreased risk of future heart attacks.
But heart disease isn’t the only health issue linked to the mouth — dentists say opening wide can reveal health woes ranging from digestive troubles to diabetes.
“The mouth gives you a treasure trove of information about a person’s health,” says Dr. Todd Ross, a dentist and adjunct clinical assistant professor at the NYU College of Dentistry. Here’s how to listen to what your mouth is telling you.
Bleeding gums are a red flag for a deeper issue, says Ross: “There’s been a direct correlation [found] between gum disease and diabetes.”
Bleeding gums can also reveal autoimmune diseases. “If they’re bleeding a lot, the patient might have HIV or lupus,” Ross says.
Additional reports have linked bleeding gums to erectile dysfunction, says Dr. Alex Rubinov, a dentist at the Rosenthal Apa Group on the Upper East Side, although more research is needed to tell exactly how the two conditions are connected.
The number of teeth in your mouth may reveal how long you’ll live, says Ross.
“One study found that patients with more than 20 teeth in their mouth live longer than patients with less than 20 teeth in their mouth,” he says, “and people who have all their teeth have a better chance of living to 100 [than those who don’t].” (Adults have 32 adult chompers, including wisdom teeth; implants count as teeth, but dentures don’t.) The state of your teeth can also reveal socioeconomic status, which impacts access to life-extending health care.
A dry mouth can be a symptom of an autoimmune disease such as Sjögren’s Syndrome, or a hormonal imbalance such as a decline in estrogen during menopause, says Rubinov. It can lead to cavities and potential tooth rot. See a dentist if your saliva levels change suddenly.
In the future, says Rubinov, dentists will be able to learn even more from saliva: Researchers are working on developing tests that can detect HIV or diabetes by swabbing a patient’s mouth while they’re in the dental chair.
More than 60 percent of the population has the herpes virus, a disease that can appear as lip sores, says Ross.
“[The sores] could be brought on by stress or by a vitamin deficiency,” says Ross. If the sores return after using an over-the-counter cream, visit a doctor to help treat the cause.
A foul-smelling mouth could be the result of bad brushing, says Ross, but there’s usually a deeper problem at play. One common culprit is acid reflux.
“People get bad breath from some sort of incorrect degree of acidity in their mouth,” says Ross. Getting to the bottom of it can save you from serious discomfort.