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Dental Health is Part of Your Overall Health

There is a strong association between dental disease and overall systemic health.  After all, the mouth is part of the body made up of nerves, skin, blood vessels, and cells—the same as the rest of our bodies. There is an old adage, “Healthy mouth means a healthy body.” That’s not far from the truth because it is not uncommon for dentists to catch systemic diseases before medical doctors do.

Medical and dental journals are replete with articles correlating gum disease (periodontitis) and heart disease, stroke, premature births, low birth weights of infants, diabetes, some kinds of cancer, and depression. Many systemic problems like candidiasis, lichen planus, and some allergic reactions often present in the mouth before anywhere else. Dental disease itself can make people more prone to other systemic problems.

For example, I once had a patient whose life was on the line because he was rejecting a liver transplant. The patient presented to me with “a little toothache.” A thorough exam revealed not one but multiple dental abscesses. Once those were managed, the patient’s health miraculously recovered. We just celebrated 20 years of that organ transplant together!

Everyone—including denture wearers—should have regular dental exams might, which should involve an evaluation of current dental x-rays that clearly show each tooth from top to bottom, a gum disease assessment, and an oral soft tissue examination. It is also important to seek dental clearance prior to being placed on certain medications. For example, some medications used to treat cancer pain and osteoporosis may pose risks for future dental treatments like extractions or periodontal surgery.  Ideally, these procedures should be done prior to beginning these medications.

Dentists are actually doctors of dental surgery or doctors of medical dentistry, this is what the designations DDS or DMD mean. We are trained to evaluate the mouth as part of the body—not just to fix cavities in teeth. In fact, medical doctors and dentists often have to work together to make sure our patients receive the best care possible. This is why we routinely ask our patients about their medical history and the name of their doctors.