7 Ways Your Dentist Can Save Your Life

For most people, a trip to the dentist involves a little anxiety over not flossing often enough and wondering if they have any cavities. They do not expect their dentist to save their life simply by performing an oral exam, but it happens. In fact, dentists are often the first medical professionals to see early warning signs of many deadly diseases. Opening up and saying, "Ah!" really can save your life. 

1. Oral Cancer: When your dentist looks in your mouth, he or she is looking at your gums, tongue, and all the soft tissue in your mouth, not just your teeth. Damage to the soft tissue and mouth sores that won't heal over a period of time are often signs of oral cancer. Unfortunately, these symptoms manifest during later stages of oral cancer. If you use tobacco products, you can request an oral cancer screening during your next check-up. With 30,000 new cases each year in the United States and only a 57% survival rate, the sooner you get help, the better. 

2. GERD: Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is another medical condition that is easily spotted by your family dentist. GERD causes excess stomach acids to make their way into a patient's throat and mouth, which can damage tooth enamel over time. The loss of this enamel signals to your dentist that you need to talk to your doctor about treatment for acid reflux. People suffering from bulimia exhibit similar signs due to their self-induced vomiting.

3. Leukemia: Gingivitis, the inflammation of one's gums that is frequently mentioned in television commercials for toothpastes, is a warning sign for leukemia. Swollen, bleeding gums combined with unexplained weight loss and feelings of weakness can be early warning signs for leukemia. Many dentists will recognize this alarming combination and refer patients to their family doctor for further examination and leukemia screening. 

4. Anemia: Iron deficiency anemia often goes unnoticed by the patient and the doctor. The dentist, however, can see early signs of anemia, like a red or swollen tongue, mouth sores, or fungal infections in the mouth. Once identified, a doctor can recommend foods rich in iron or an iron supplement to boost a patient's iron intake.

5. Diabetes: According to the American Diabetes Association, over 8 million Americans have undiagnosed diabetes. This statistic is startling because diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the United States. Your dentist, however, may be able to help. During an oral exam, your dentist can spot early warning signs of diabetes, like loose teeth, dry mouth, and higher rates of periodontal disease. 

6. Chronic Stress: While most people have heard from loved ones about their snoring, it is the dentist who speaks up when you grind your teeth. In fact, your family dentist may be the first person to inform you that you grind your teeth when you sleep at night, even though he or she has never set foot in your house. The resulting damage to your teeth, however, is visible when you open wide at your exam. The underlying cause of grinding your teeth is widely believed to be stress or anxiety. While this may not sound serious, chronic stress is linked to six leading causes of death.

7. Heart Disease: The latest research shows that there is an alarming connection between gum disease and heart disease. Excessive bacteria leads to plaque build-up, cavities, and gum disease. The real problem occurs when the plaque loosens, travels through the bloodstream, and leads to a life-threatening clot. The Centers for Disease Control state that up to 100,000 people die from blood clots each year.

While everyone knows that getting your teeth cleaned twice a year is good for your oral health, it is surprising to learn that it can save your life, too.