Baby boomers looking for the warning signs of adult-onset diseases may be overlooking key symptoms in their mouth that could signal an alarm about their overall health.
According to a survey commissioned by the Academy of General Dentistry, 63% of baby boomers (people born from 1946 to 1964) with an oral symptom considered to be a key indicator of a more serious health condition were unaware of the symptom’s link to the condition. Failure to recognize that oral health holds valuable clues to overall health could negatively affect their overall health by delaying treatment for more serious health conditions.
“Because of their busy lifestyles, members of this age group may not take the time to seek regular dental treatment, especially if they aren’t in pain,” said Kevin Sheu, DDS, director of professional services for Delta Dental. “Regular oral exams by your dentist can catch some diseases at their earliest stages, when they are most treatable.”
Oral health reflects overall health
New research suggests that the health of your mouth mirrors the condition of your body as a whole. For example, when your mouth is healthy, chances are your overall health is good, too. On the other hand, if you have poor oral health, you may have other health problems.
Consider these possibilities:
- Bad breath and bleeding gums could be indicators of diabetes.
- Dental x-rays show the first stages of bone loss.
- A sore and painful jaw could foreshadow an oncoming heart attack.
Your dentist may be the first to know
Baby boomers 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.
Research shows that more than 90 percent of all systemic diseases (diseases involving many organs or the whole body) have oral manifestations, including swollen gums, mouth ulcers, dry mouth and excessive gum problems. Such diseases include:
Since most people have regular oral examinations, their dentist may be the first health care provider to diagnose a health problem in its early stages.
What you can do
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 problems. Provide your dentist with a complete medical history and inform him or her of any recent health developments, even if they seem unrelated to your oral health.