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You may have heard the phrase, “the eyes are the window to your soul”.  But have you ever thought that your mouth could be the window to your overall health?

Health experts and researchers have discovered a direct relationship between your dental health and systemic diseases. As many health complications start with oral symptoms, the state of your mouth could reveal problems with your heart, blood flow, or digestion.  Since you’re likely to visit your doctor only when you feel ill, your dentist may be the first health professional who can spot and diagnose the following conditions in their earliest stages.

1. Cardiovascular Disease

Chronic low-grade inflammation appears in every stage of atherosclerosis, the process in which plaque builds up in the arteries. Although researchers have yet to determine whether inflammation is the cause or the symptom, inflammation sets the stage for heart attacks, strokes, and vascular dementia. Your gums contain plenty of blood vessels, and in theory, any swelling and inflammation in the gums could indicate inflammation elsewhere in the body. Additionally, if you have gum disease, the bacteria in your gums could travel to your heart via those tiny blood vessels and contribute to the formation of clots and arterial plaque buildup. If your dentist spots periodontitis or gingivitis during your next checkup, you just may want to schedule an appointment with your doctor regarding your heart health.

2. Diabetes

Diabetes directly affects blood sugar levels as well as inhibits the body’s ability to fight infection. Over time, diabetes also causes blood vessels to thicken, resulting in poor blood flow.  Your mouth houses countless bacteria that thrive on sugar. When left unchecked, diabetes results in high sugar levels throughout the body, including the mouth. The more sugar available to oral bacteria, the more acid the bacteria produce. This acid not only eats away at your enamel but also increases your risk for periodontal disease. In fact, studies show that those with diabetes tend to suffer from gum disease more severely and more frequently than those who have their blood sugar levels in check.

Furthermore, when your body can’t produce enough insulin, your body starts to burn fat instead of sugar. The fat burning process results in ketone production,and excessive ketone levels can contribute to a sweet or fruity odor on your breath.  If your dentist sees a combination of periodontitis and bad breath, he or she may recommend that you visit your doctor for a fasting glucose test.

3. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, causes stomach acid to back up into the esophagus. In some cases, the acid buildup may flow intothe back of the mouth.  Your saliva and mouth tend to maintain a steady, neutral pH level between 6.75 and 7.25. These pH levels allow bacteria to remain in check while keeping your tooth enamel in good shape. However, when your pH levels dip below 5.5, the enamel starts to de-mineralize, leaving your teeth vulnerable to decay and infection. In general, stomach acid has a pH level of 2.0. When stomach acid escapes the esophagus and travels to the mouth, the acidic exposure can trigger significant chemical erosion. If your dentist discovers severe enamel damage to your molars and throat, you should talk to your doctor about managing your heartburn and testing for GERD.

Don’t Skip Your Next Dental Appointment

Although your dentist might not be able to provide the same care as your doctor, he or she can work in conjunction with your health care provider to ensure you enjoy maximum oral and overall physical health. To catch problems early, however, you need to visit your dentist on a bi-annual basis. If you haven’t had a checkup for years, don’t wait to schedule your next appointment.