What Your Teeth Say About Your Health
Research has shown that there is an association between periodontal diseases and other chronic inflammatory conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, treating inflammation may not only help manage periodontal diseases but may also help with the management of other chronic inflammatory conditions.
But on the flip side, symptoms of disease may present in the teeth and mouth. The mouth is often used to diagnose, make a prognosis, treat or intervene on a number of diseases. Healthy gums should look pink and firm, not red and swollen–and your teeth should feel solid. If you have problems with your teeth and gums, it’s important to see a dentist, and possibly your general physician. Here is a list of some health problems that can sometimes show up in the teeth or gums.
Tooth Loss: Osteoporosis
The bone disease osteoporosis affects all the bones in your body–including your jaw bone–and can cause tooth loss. The erosion of the jawbone can result in tooth loss, mild facial deformities and pain in and around the temporomandibular joint, which connects the upper and lower jaws. Alveolar bone, the kind of bone around the roots of the teeth, is susceptible to the process of osteoporosis. It tends to erode quickly when calcium is depleted from the body.
Pale Gums: Anemia
Your mouth may be sore and pale if you’re anemic, and your tongue can become swollen and smooth. When you have anemia, your body doesn’t have enough red blood cells, or your red blood cells don’t contain enough hemoglobin. As a result, your body doesn’t get enough oxygen. Other symptoms of anemia, according to the National Anemia Action Council, include: feeling tired, fatigued, weak, dizzy, irritable, short of breath or depressed. With anemia, you may also have pale skin, brittle nails, chest pain, a coldness in your hands or feet, or an irregular heartbeat. Some people with anemia also have a desire to eat ice or other peculiar things.
Eroded Tooth Enamel: Eating Disorders
A dentist may be the first to notice signs of an eating disorder such as bulimia. The stomach acid from repeated vomiting can severely erode tooth enamel, especially on the tongue side of the upper front teeth. This sharply increases the risk for decay in these areas and can make these teeth sensitive to temperature. Severe erosion can lead to changes in the bite, or the way upper and lower teeth come together. Back teeth can be reduced in size and some teeth can even be lost eventually. Tooth erosion can take about three years to become obvious, but not all bulimics experience it. Frequent vomiting may also cause� salivary glands to swell and the tissues of the mouth and tongue to become dry, red and sore. People with bulimia may have chronic sore throat and small hemorrhages under the skin of the palate.
Thrush: HIV, Diabetes
People with HIV or AIDS may develop oral thrush or other candida infections because the immune system is weakened; thrush can also by caused by drugs such as prednisone, or when antibiotics disturb the natural balance of microorganisms in your body. Oral thrush causes white lesions, usually on your tongue or inner cheeks. The lesions can be painful and may bleed slightly when you scrape them–the body’s weakened immune system and its inability to defend itself from infections are to blame. People with HIV/AIDS may also experience dry mouth, which increases the risk of tooth decay and can make chewing, eating, swallowing, or talking difficult.
If you don’t know you have diabetes or the disease isn’t well controlled, your saliva may contain large amounts of sugar, which encourages the growth of candida.
Gum Disease: Rheumatoid Arthritis
People with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are eight times more likely to have gum disease than people without this autoimmune disease. Inflammation may be the common denominator between the two–an autoimmune disorder, rheumatoid arthritis occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks your own body’s tissues. (In addition to causing joint problems, rheumatoid arthritis can also affect your whole body with fevers and fatigue.) Making matters worse, people with RA can have trouble brushing and flossing because of damage to finger joints. The good news is that treating existing gum inflammation and infection can also reduce joint pain and inflammation.
Tooth Loss: Kidney Disease
Adults without teeth may be more likely to have chronic kidney disease than those who still have teeth. Exactly how kidney disease and periodontal disease are linked is not entirely clear yet, although researchers think that chronic inflammation may be the connecting link. So taking care of your teeth and gums may reduce your risk of developing chronic kidney problems.
Gum Disease: Premature Birth
If you’re pregnant and have gum disease, you could be more likely to have a baby that is born too early and too small. Exactly how the two conditions are linked remains poorly understood. Underlying inflammation or infections may be to blame. Pregnancy and its related hormonal changes also appear to worsen gum disease; talk to your obstetrician or dentist to find out how to protect yourself and your baby.
For another way to look at health problems, see Fingernail Diagnostics.