What Your Dentist Knows About Your Health
Learn why a dental exam can reveal more than just the condition of your teeth and gums.
Your teeth may be worn down or chipped if you've been unconsciously grinding or clenching them. This grinding -- also known as bruxism -- can eventually cause bone loss that your dentist may detect on your X-rays.
Bruxism is usually caused by stress but can also occur because the top and bottom teeth aren't aligned properly. You may or may not be aware that you've been grinding your teeth, but your dentist can spot the signs.
To prevent damage to your teeth and keep them apart so your jaw muscles can relax, your dentist can fit you with a custom mouth guard to wear while you sleep.
Premature and Low-Weight Births
Studies suggest that pregnant women with serious gum disease -- called periodontitis -- are more likely to deliver a premature baby of low birth weight.
Offenbacher explains that the bacteria in the mouth of a woman with gum disease can trigger an increase in a chemical compound called prostaglandin and other harmful inflammatory molecules. These chemicals can induce early labor and impair fetal growth. Offenbacher has conducted several studies on the link between periodontitis and an increased risk of delivering a premature baby.
More research is needed to determine the best way to manage gum problems to lower the risk of preterm delivery. Researchers have yet to determine, for example, the best treatment to use and whether the treatment should ideally begin before women with gum disease get pregnant.
Experts agree, however, that women who are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant should get a dental exam and, if necessary, treatment for gum disease as early as they can.
"If you want a healthy and predictable pregnancy, it makes sense to take care of your periodontal health as early as possible," says Donald S. Clem, DDS, a periodontist in Fullerton, Calif., and president of the American Academy of Periodontology.
Since gum disease may increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes, you should tell your dentist if you have cardiovascular disease or have a family history of these conditions.
Researchers are investigating the links between gum disease and cardiovascular disease. One potential link is that inflammation in the mouth increases inflammation in other parts of the body, including the arteries. This inflammation may play a role in heart attacks or strokes.
By treating gum disease and reducing the inflammation in your mouth, you may be able to lower your risk of stroke or heart attack, Offenbacher says.
"I tell my patients: If you have a family history of heart disease or stroke, you should keep your gums as healthy as possible so you don't add to your other risk factors," Cram says. "Spending 5 minutes a day to remove plaque and bacteria by brushing and flossing is worth it if it will help prevent serious heart problems or stroke."