I can tell a lot about a patient’s overall health just by looking at their teeth. Though we may not often think about it, our oral health is directly related to our overall health. Your dentist might be the first of your doctors to spot medical problems. Today, I’m going to discuss a few conditions (oral and otherwise) that I can spot just by examining a person’s mouth.
- Bruxism. If you clench and grind your teeth, you may have a condition known as bruxism. If a patient’s teeth are worn down or show chips or cracks, they could be regularly clenching and grinding their teeth. Most of the time, those with bruxism do the clenching and grinding while they sleep, so morning headaches and sore jaw or facial muscles can also be a symptom of this condition.
What you can do: Ask your dentist about how you can effectively protect your teeth from the effects of bruxism. A mouth guard can often help prevent and/or eliminate symptoms.
- TMD. Sometimes as a result of bruxism, patients can develop a temporomandibular disorder (TMD). TMD is related to the temporomandibular joints (TMJs), which are the jaw joints located on either side of your face. The TMJs are complicated joints, and disorders involving them can be tough to diagnose. The signs of TMD range from earaches and shoulder pain to jaw popping and migraines.
What you can do: Talk to your dentist about how he or she has helped those with TMD in the past. If you need to, you can ask to be referred to a dentist specializing in TMD.
- Sinus Infection. As you can see with the effects of TMD, your jaw is interconnected to many other parts of the body. Like your ears, your sinuses are connected to the upper jaw. If there is a lot of pressure on your sinuses (such as when you have a sinus infection), it can result in a toothache. Usually toothaches caused by sinus problems are in the roots of your upper back teeth.
What you can do: Get some rest and take any medications you’ve been prescribed to help your sinuses. Do nasal saline rinses daily, with distilled water, if your physician approves. If your toothache doesn’t improve along with your sinuses, see your dentist right away.
- Heart Attack. Yes, a toothache can be a sign of a heart attack! Often this type of toothache happens on the lower left side of your jaw. Like the nerves of the ears and sinuses, the nerves of the heart also pass near the jaw. So a toothache in this area could actually be chest pain, even if you don’t actually feel any pain in your chest. Additionally, jaw pain, especially when accompanied by pain in your chest or shoulder, may indicate a heart attack.
What you can do: If you think you may be experiencing or have experienced a heart attack, call 911 or go to your hospital emergency room immediately.
- Oral Cancer. In the past, cases of oral cancers were most commonly diagnosed when visible to the naked eye. Now, special multi-spectral lights make it easier to see and diagnosis oral cancer in the early stages, giving patients survival rates of up to 90 percent!
When screening patients for oral cancer, I check for mouth sores. Now, don’t panic—mouth sores are extremely common, and the vast majority of them are nothing to worry about. Red and white sores, sores that are very slow to heal, and areas of numbness in your mouth are important symptoms to watch out for.
What you can do: The next time you are at the dentist, ask them to screen you for oral cancer. If you’re concerned about anything you’ve noticed recently, set up an appointment as soon as possible.