4 Dental Issues and What They Reveal About Your Health

Don’t give these common dental issues the brush-off, they’re key to a healthy life

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Good oral health = Good general health


A semi-annual date with your dentist will not only ensure that you leave your appointment with a bright smile and clean mouth, but also help you stay on top of your general health.

“Regular dental visits help with early diagnosis and prevention of dental disease and act as a screening tool to detect potentially serious conditions,” says Dr. Effie Habsha, a board-certified prosthodontist, at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto.

Along with checkups every six months, the Canadian Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth (and tongue) at least twice a day and flossing daily.

Why is maintenance so important? “Research shows that infections in the mouth can travel via the bloodstream, permeating organs and your immune system,” says Dr. Habsha. “Studies have linked poor oral hygiene, tooth decay and periodontal disease to a number of illnesses, including heart and respiratory disease.”

That sounds ominous, but the point to focus on is this: Good oral health can help ensure good general health. Use our guide to know what to look for.

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Indulging in a daily sugar fix could be digging a hole in your tooth. “Too much sugar in your diet, poor oral hygiene and neglect can lead to cavities,” says Dr. Michael Rouhi, a dentist based in Toronto.

Also, if you overload on acidic foods or drinks (such as lemon water), you might want to ease up, as these contribute to dental erosion, too.

Get your cavities filled immediately – if left unattended, cavities can grow larger, leading to nerve pain and affecting your ability to eat. These cavities can also lead to a tooth infection, which can spread to other areas of the body, including your brain.

A lack of moisture in the mouth creates an environment that’s ripe for tooth decay. Our saliva plays an important role in removing bacteria and food debris from our teeth while mediating the pH balance in our mouth. If you suffer from dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, check your prescriptions and over-the-counter medications, as this is a common side effect.

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Bad breath

“Eighty to 90 percent of bad breath is caused by bacteria that lingers in your mouth, producing volatile, foul-smelling sulfur compounds,” says Dr. Rouhi. Smell familiar? It’s the same offensive odour that rotten eggs emit. The more bacteria you have, the worse your halitosis. Easy fix: Along with brushing, clean your tongue and floss daily.

A Canadian Health Measures Survey found that we’re getting a failing grade in flossing, with just over one-quarter of respondents flossing at least five times a week. “If this step isn’t part of your daily routine, you’re missing 20 percent of the tooth surface, and what’s left behind produces the perfect breeding ground for destructive bacteria,” says dentist Dr. Uche Odiatu.
You can be excused for the occasional hiccup because of a garlic-laced lunch, but if dragon’s breath persists, it’s time to identify the root cause and contributing health factors. The three main culprits of chronic bad breath include:
• postnasal drip (the result of excessive mucus from your nose accumulating in the back of your throat);
• gum disease; and
• an underlying gut problem, such as dysbiosis.

Talk to your healthcare provider about next steps. To rule out any tummy troubles, she may set up an appointment with a gastrointestinal specialist; for nasal-related issues, an appointment with an ear, nose and throat specialist may be in order.

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Gum disease

If your gums are red and swollen and your sink is dotted with blood after you brush, these could be signs of gum disease. Chew on this: Seven out of 10 Canadians will develop this issue at some point in their lives, making it the most common dental problem. Genetics can play a role, but more often it’s due to poor oral care or dental neglect.

Along with professional cleanings and dental exams, proactive prevention is the simplest way to combat it before it dominoes into a bigger problem. If left untreated, bacteria accumulates and breaks down the gum tissue and bone around teeth. This can lead to gum recession, bone loss, stained teeth and eventually tooth loss.

The problem doesn’t stop there: “Infections can leak into the bloodstream, leading to other serious conditions,” says Dr. Rouhi. Mounting research has found that the bacteria responsible for gum disease can travel through the body and lead to inflammation of the heart and other organs.

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Cold sores and cankers, although a nuisance, are insignificant and have a short shelf life. However, if you have a lesion that changes in size and shape, isn’t healing and persists for more than two to three weeks, seek professional attention. “Specifically, look for red or white patches and note any burning sensations,” says Dr. Rouhi. These kinds of patches could indicate thrush, mouth cancer or foot and mouth disease. Any lingering lesions should be investigated. Your doctor will swab the area and send it to a lab for further testing.

At home, regularly examine your entire mouth, including the tongue, roof and floor and both cheeks. Book regular checkups, and ensure that your dentist is screening for oral cancer. The good news is that when properly dealt with, many conditions heal quickly. “The cells in your mouth reproduce five times faster than other parts of your body,” says Dr. Rouhi. “The rate of cell turnover is a defence mechanism that helps our mouth repair itself rapidly.”

RELATED: 5 Bad Oral Health Habits You Need to Break

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