Dentists are Disease Detectives

Your mouth performs a range of important daily activities including eating, drinking, talking and smiling. But did you know that your mouth can also provide clues to other diseases? Dentists can act as disease detectives by simply examining your mouth, head, and neck for signs and symptoms that may point to more serious health issues.

During routine checkups, dentists not only look for cavities and gum disease, but also monitor symptoms like breath odor, unexplained sores and tooth erosion. If certain signs are detected, dentists can urge patients to seek medical attention to help better manage their oral health and overall health. Dentists are at the forefront of saving lives, as more than 90 percent of common diseases have oral symptoms and can be detected in the dental chair.1

It’s important to remember that just because you haven’t had a cavity in a while or haven’t had any tooth pain recently, that doesn’t necessarily mean you are in the clear. Be sure to visit your dentist regularly to ensure your oral health and overall health are being monitored and in good standing.

Did you know?

More than 120 signs and symptoms of non-dental diseases can be detected through a routine oral exam.2

Quick Bites

Health problems with oral signs:3

  • Anemia: Burning, fiery red tongue, swelling of the corners of mouth or pale gums.
  • Anorexia nervosa and bulimia: Erosion of tooth enamel, fillings raised above the eroded tooth surfaces, sensitive teeth, enlarged parotid glands and sweet breath aroma.
  • Deficient immune system (HIV positive): Thrush mouth, unexplained sores, non-removable white areas on the sides of the tongue.
  • Diabetes: Dry mouth, distinctive breath odor, burning tongue, high rate of tooth decay, inflammation and infections in the mouth.
  • Heart disease: Pain radiating to the jaw.
  • Kidney failure: Retarded tooth development in children, dry mouth, odor, metallic taste and ulcers on the tongue and gums.


1 Dental Care and Oral Health Information You Need, Academy of General Dentistry,, accessed November 2014.
2 Little, James W., Falace, Donald A., Miller, Craig S., & Rhodus, Nelson L. (2008). Dental Management of the Medically Compromised Patient (7th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Mosby Elsevier.
3 Steven L. Bricker, Robert P. Langlais, and Craig S. Miller, Oral Diagnosis, Oral Medicine and Treatment Planning (Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger, 1994).

Making the Connection: Oral Health and Diabetes

More than 29 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes. Of those, eight million are actually unaware of their condition. To top it off, it’s estimated that 86 million people have prediabetes, a condition that increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes down the road.1,2

So what do these statistics and diabetes have to do with oral health?

Research has found a strong connection between periodontal (gum) disease and diabetes. People with diabetes not only are more likely to have gum disease, but can have a more advanced stage of the condition than those without diabetes.3 It’s important to know that anyone is susceptible, especially pregnant women who are at an increased risk for both gum disease and gestational diabetes due to a change in hormone levels.4,5

Unlike gum disease, diabetes is not always preventable. That’s why regular dental visits are necessary in helping potential diabetics become aware of the risks and the importance of maintaining good oral health. Proper care of the mouth, including treatment of gum disease, may even help diabetics achieve better blood sugar control.

Understanding the connection between diabetes and gum disease will help you keep your oral and overall health in check.

Did you know?

Of the 25 million people with diabetes aged 20 years and older, 13 million are men and 12.6 million are women.1

Quick bites

The following tips can help diabetics better manage their oral and overall health:

  • Schedule regular dental cleanings at a frequency recommended by your dentist to help eliminate the source of bacteria associated with periodontal disease.
  • Tell your dentist you have diabetes, and remind him or her of the status of your condition at each visit.
  • Share your physician’s and dentist’s contact information so they can discuss proper treatment should an issue arise.
  • Practice good oral health habits, such as brushing and flossing regularly and using a daily mouth rinse.
1 American Diabetes Association,, accessed November 2014.
2 American Diabetes Association,, accessed November 2014.
3 Delta Dental Plans Association, DentistPerioandDiabetes.pdf, accessed November 2014.
4 American Diabetes Association,, accessed November 2014.
5 American Pregnancy Association. Pregnancy and Swollen Gums (Also known as Pregnancy Gingivitis), pregnancyhealth/swollengums.html, accessed November 2014.

Tobacco: Unfiltered Facts

Tobacco use in any form—cigarette, cigar, pipe and smokeless (spit) tobacco—increases the risk for a variety of oral health conditions including:

Periodontal (Gum) Disease—Studies show that tobacco use may be one of the most significant risk factors in the development and progression of gum disease.1 In fact, smoking may play a significant role in more than 50 percent of chronic periodontal disease cases.2

Tooth Decay, Bad Breath and Stained Teeth—Despite good oral health habits, tobacco use is still more likely to cause cavities due to decreased saliva flow, increased plaque and tartar build-up and a greater pH level in the mouth. Beyond the medical risks, bad breath and stained teeth are other negative effects of smoking.

Tooth Loss—Smokers are about twice as likely to lose their teeth as non-smokers.3, 4 Smoking can restrict blood flow to the gum tissues, limiting delivery of nutrients necessary for the bone and gum support of teeth.

Oral Cancer—Of the nearly 40,000 Americans diagnosed with oral cancer annually, only about half live past the five-year survival milestone.5 Tobacco use increases oral cancer risk, and those who use tobacco and consume excessive alcohol have an especially high risk.6

Discuss your concerns about tobacco use and its impact on your oral health with your dentist.

Did you know?

There are 28 or more cancer causing agents in just smokeless tobacco alone.7

Quick bites

More tobacco-related health risks:8

  • Cancers including: bladder, esophageal, laryngeal, lung, throat, cervical, kidney, stomach and pancreatic
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) including chronic bronchitis and emphysema
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm
  • Acute myeloid leukemia
  • Cataracts
  • Pneumonia
1 American Academy of Periodontology,, accessed November 2014.
2 New York Times Health Guide,, accessed
3 “Smoking, Smoking Cessation, and Tooth Loss.” E.A. Krall, B. Dawson-Hughes, A.J. Garvey and R.I. Garcia. J Dent Res. October 1997, 76(10): 1653–1659.
4 “Tobacco Use and Incidence of Tooth Loss Among US Male Health Professionals.” T. Dietrich, N.N. Maserejian, K.J. Joshipura, E.A. Krall and R.I. Garcia. J Dental Res. 2007, 86(4): 373–377.
5 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,, accessed November 2014.
6 Oral Cancer Foundation,, accessed November 2014.
7 Mayo Clinic,, accessed November 2014.
8 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/effects_cig_smoking/, accessed November 2014.