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Diabetes? Heart disease? Osteoporosis? Your dentist may know before you do.

The risks of developing diabetes, osteoporosis and heart disease increase with age. Since symptoms of these conditions can manifest in your mouth, dentists may be key in diagnosing the diseases.

Regular visits to the dentist aren’t just good for your teeth — they may help detect bigger health issues before they get worse. If you’re noticing symptoms such as bad breath or inflamed and bleeding gums, your oral health may be trying to tell you something about your overall health.

Oral health reflects overall health

Research shows that more than 90 percent of all systemic diseases have oral manifestations, including swollen gums, mouth ulcers, dry mouth and excessive gum problems. Some of these diseases include:

  • Diabetes
  • Leukemia
  • Oral cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease

Seniors are especially vulnerable to developing diabetes, osteoporosis and heart disease, the risks of which increase with age. Researchers believe that symptoms of these conditions can manifest in the mouth, making dentists key in diagnosing the diseases. For example:

  • Bad breath and bleeding gums could be indicators of diabetes.
  • Dental x-rays can show the first stages of bone loss and osteoporosis.
  • A sore and painful jaw could foreshadow an oncoming heart attack.

What to expect during a dental exam

What you can do

In many cases, a dentist may be the first health care provider to diagnose a health problem in its early stages since many people have regular oral examinations and see their dentist more often than their physician.

Seeing a dentist regularly helps to keep your mouth in top shape and allows your dentist to watch for developments that may point to other health issues. A dental exam can also detect poor nutrition and hygiene, improper jaw alignment and signs of developing oral and overall health problems.

When you visit your dentist, be sure to provide a complete medical history and inform him or her of any recent health developments, even if they seem unrelated to your oral health. In addition, you can play a major role in improving your oral and overall health by following these practices:

  • Brushing your teeth for two to three minutes, twice a day, with fluoridated toothpaste. Be sure to brush along the gumline.
  • Flossing daily to remove plaque from places your toothbrush can’t reach.
  • Eating a healthy diet to provide essential nutrients (vitamins A and C, in particular).
  • Avoiding cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.
  • Limiting your alcohol intake.
  • Carefully following your physician’s and dentist’s instructions about health care, including using prescription medications, such as antibiotics, as directed.
  • Seeing your dentist when you have any unusual oral symptoms like bad breath, mouth sores, red or swollen gums or sore jaws.

Last updated February 10, 2022

The oral health information on this website is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.