The dentist may not be your favorite appointment, but it’s a necessity.
Good oral hygiene saves you from more than just tooth decay, cavities and bad breath. It is critically important because it can help prevent certain medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.
And here’s something else: The state of your teeth, mouth and gums can clue your dentist into other medical issues you may need to address. By examining your mouth, your dentist can identify eating disorders, sleeping problems, anxiety, stress and more.
Below are some of the things dentists can see about your overall wellness just by looking your mouth:
1. Anxiety or poor sleep.
Your teeth could be a clue to any distress you might be feeling. Stress, anxiety or a sleep disorder can cause teeth grinding. Bruxism, the medical term for teeth grinding, is significantly more frequent in people with obstructive sleep apnea, according to research.
“The surfaces of the teeth become flat and the teeth get worn down,” Charles Rankin, DDS and professor at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, told HuffPost, noting that a healthy tooth reaches a certain height and has an uneven, bumpy crown. “Grinding your teeth [at night] makes that height go down.”
The most important thing you can do if you grind your teeth, advises Rankin, is to talk to your dentist about getting a night guard to prevent it from happening.
“Then the patient really needs to get into an exercise program or have stress counseling,” Rankin said.
2. Eating disorders.
Certain types of disordered eating, such as anorexia or bulimia, can be apparent to a dentist. Research shows that gastric acid from purging, which is associated with the conditions, can erode both tooth enamel and dentine, the softer layer just underneath the enamel. The erosion is usually found on the backside of the teeth, Rankin said.
But while enamel erosion can prompt dentists to inquire about eating disorders, it is not always the culprit. Enamel erosion can be genetic or congenital, Panos Papapanou, DDS and professor of dental medicine at Columbia University told HuffPost. Even acid reflux could be the cause.