10/29/02 - Healthy Teeth: Your Pearly Whites Could Say a Lot About Your Physical Health

Your mouth is telling stories about you, without saying a word. Dentists are now beginning to understand how much your mouth reveals about possible diseases elsewhere in the body. Spotting serious oral problems may save your life. Problems in your mouth can help doctors diagnosis anything from diabetes to cancer.
Colleen Buron says, "I had very bright red gums which seemed to be receding before my eyes." Buron learned the hard way- your mouth is a window to your health. "I was afraid will this never go away," Buron says. She'd given up hope. "I lost confidence in my doctor and dentist because I thought the things they're telling me to do are not working, there's something else going on," Buron says.
She was right. Looking at her troubled gums and sensitive tongue led to Buron's correct diagnosis, a serious thyroid condition. Dr. Nelson Rhodus at the University of Minnesota says, "The mouth can be a pretty good indicator of change in the body's overall system." Signs of Nancy Palmer's lupus showed up in her mouth long before diagnosis. Palmer says, "I've had canker sores from the time I was a teen and a lot of cavities, a root canal."
Severe oral problems can lead doctors to a diagnosis of everything from diabetes, to cancer to AIDS. Dr. Rhodus is trying to start a trend, training dentists to think about more than the mouth. "We really want our dentists who are trained here to be well aware of both the fact that what they see in the mouth might be an indication of another systemic problem and vice versa," Dr. Rhodus says.
If you take good care of your teeth and gums, dry mouth and canker sores don't have to mean something serious. "The first step is good oral hygiene, then follow up with a dentist," Dr. Rhodus says. If your gums do not respond to proper treatment, then doctors make be able to make a different diagnosis on what could be wrong.