Dental News

Watch Your Mouth

Reported March 31, 2003

LOS ANGELES (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Though they may not see their doctor that often, more than 50 percent of people in the United States say they’ve been to their dentist within the last six months. Those visits to the dentist might be keeping more than just your teeth in good shape.

Meet the dentists of tomorrow — students learning to identify, and repair, whatever is wrong inside a patient’s mouth. These students are also learning to “think outside the mouth” to notice signs of bigger health problems.

“There’s a lot of bacteria, fungi, in the mouth, and if we have a compromised immune system for any reason, then that will be clearly evident in the oral cavity,” says Craig Woods, D.D.S., a dentist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

When the bacteria in your mouth create problems with your teeth and gums, it may mean your immune system isn’t working properly. “Conditions that can cause that can be things like diabetes, AIDS,” says Woods.

In addition, cancer can spread from inside the body to inside the mouth, where a dentist can spot it. Because most people tend to see their dentists more frequently than they see their doctors, a standard dental exam could be a lifesaver.

Patient Melisa Daniels says, “This pain has been giving me headaches, and if there was something else wrong, I would be very glad to know. Because I don’t go to the doctor that often.”

So, while your dentist is no substitute for a general practitioner, he or she can be an extra set of watchful eyes.

Once a dentist notices an unusual condition that might point to a bigger problem, the patient is urged to see his or her doctor. All modern dentists are trained to recognize health problems that present symptoms in the mouth.

Michelle Popowitz
UCLA School of Dentistry