If mouth ulcers last longer than three weeks or are more than 1cm in diameter, you should see your dentist. Ulcers can be an early indicator of bowel diseases such as Crohn's disease, inflammatory skin disorders, arthritic disorders, cancer or coeliac disorders.
Alton-based dentist Steve Charlton comments: “I once had a patient who came to my practice with a sharp tooth that had dug into his lip so badly that a painful ulcer had formed.” One look at the ulcerated lip and Steve suspected that there was more to this than a sharp tooth and referred the patient to a specialist.
Although the patient was diagnosed with oral cancer, he was treated quickly.
Grinding your teeth
Before you visit an osteopath to help cure that neck pain or to help eliminate your clicking jaw, it may be worth visiting your dentist first. The British Dental Health Foundation advises that clicking, grinding and pain in your jaw joints or ringing and buzzing in your ears may be a result of grinding your teeth.
Grinding your teeth can lead to pain in your neck and back as a result of joint and muscle pains within your jaw area. It can physically wear down your teeth, making them more sensitive and more difficult to chew. Your dentist will be able to advise you whether grinding your teeth has led to some of the symptoms in your neck or back.
Your dentist may recommend ‘bite adjustments’ or a ‘bite guard’, which is a plastic appliance that fits over your teeth and which stops you from clenching and grinding them during the night.
One of the most important things that dentists can spot is the first signs of mouth cancer. In the UK, mouth cancer is responsible for one death every five hours and early diagnosis can dramatically improve the chances of recovery.
Your dentist can conduct a soft-tissue examination to check for lesions that may be too small for you to have noticed yourself. If you drink or smoke, then you should be particularly vigilant because both increase the risk of mouth cancer. If it is detected early enough, it can respond well to treatment and the chances of a complete cure are extremely high. Dr Roger Matthews, chief dental officer, Denplan, says: “If anyone is concerned about changes taking place in their mouth, I would strongly advise them to get checked out by their dentist, doctor or pharmacist. Spotting the early warning signs such as red or white patches in your mouth, or persistent ulcers that have lasted more than three weeks, could save lives.”
A dry mouth is often a side effect of medication such as pain relief and anti-depressants. If your dentist notices that you are developing more cavities than usual, one of the first things they may ask you is whether or not you are taking any medication. This is because saliva helps to wash bacteria away in your mouth and if your saliva levels have reduced, it may increase the bacteria levels.
More rarely, dry mouth and a furry tongue could be related to other illnesses, such as diabetes or anaemia. A furry tongue on its own could mean that you are not having enough fibre in your diet – your dentist may recommend using a tongue brush or tongue scraper to help overcome the immediate problem. But it's important to remember that if you have a dry mouth, although it could relate to some of the highlighted symptoms, it could simply be that you are dehydrated and need to drink more water. Water is essential for transporting calcium and other essential minerals for optimum dental health.
Bad breath can be a sign of gum disease resulting from poor oral hygiene. It can also be due to respiratory tract infections – sinus and lung infections.
More rarely, bad breath could also be part of systemic illnesses such as diabetes, liver disease and kidney disease. Your dentist will be able to tell you whether your bad breath relates to gum disease and help to find solutions.
Every five hours in the UK, someone dies of mouth cancer. A dentist can spot the early signs
That's not all...
Your dentist can also pick up on other health issues, including Paget's disease, which is a metabolic bone disorder that usually affects older people. Asthmatics and diabetics are more likely to develop thrush in the mouth, due to the use of inhalers or low blood sugar levels, all of which can be identified by your dentist.
It is important to recognise the importance of regular dental check-ups.
It's not a case of being at risk of dying from a toothache, of course, but that troubles with your teeth and gums can sometimes highlight other potentially life-threatening health problems that can be resolved with prompt treatment.
Denplan, the UK's leading dental healthcare plan provider, promotes preventive care, helping you to maintain your oral health year-round and minimise the need for surgery or intervention.
There are a number of plans available, including Denplan Care, a monthly plan covering routine and restorative care, Denplan Essentials, a maintenance plan that ensures the basic elements of preventive care are covered, and Plans for Children. All of these plans include worldwide injury and emergency cover, subject to benefit limits..
Find out more about the dental plans available to you and your family; or if you’re an employer you might be interested in our corporate dental insurance. If you have a specific question you want answered, why not ask one of our experts?
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