A visit to the dentist office could provide a glimpse into your heart and brain health.
More than an estimated 100 diseases can show symptoms in the mouth. For instance, periodontal disease, which results from infections and inflammation of the gums and bone that support and surround the teeth, is more common and may be more severe in people with diabetes.
Other times, prescription drugs may affect the mouth. For instance, some drugs used to treat hypertension can cause swollen, inflamed gums.
“We see a lot of systemic diseases with oral signs and symptoms,” says Dr. Jennifer Perkins, executive director of clinical education at the University of California San Francisco School of Dentistry.
Dentists might be able to pick up on red flags about a patient’s overall health before they even start poking around in the mouth. Perkins teaches the importance of focusing on evaluating and following up on patients’ medical health histories.
“Through that process, we sometimes come across important medical findings,” she shares. Students who work with faculty at UCSF find symptoms or concerns in patients every day that might need a consult or referral to a health care professional. The following are some examples.
A person’s blood pressure may be taken before a cleaning or a dental procedure that requires a local anesthetic, Perkins says. Most dental offices ask first-time visitors to fill out medical history forms that are updated periodically, much like at the doctor’s office.
“Every contact that a patient makes with the health care system is another opportunity for prevention, and hypertension is a classic example of a condition where this may make all the difference,” says Dr. Dhruv Satish Kazi, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston. Many dental clinics will check blood pressure, he notes, “and can therefore identify patients who need to be connected with care.”
Dentist offices, he adds, can serve as a touchpoint for other services, especially for