It is common to believe that there is no need to make an appointment with your dentist unless you start to notice obvious problems with your teeth or gums. However, you may be surprised by the fact that dentists are often the first ones to discover the warning signs of potentially significant health problems. As a result, scheduling routine dental check-ups can help to reduce your risk of developing a large number of different diseases and conditions. Read on to discover the top ten reasons to regularly visit your dentist.
1) You will make sure that oral cancer is noticed in the early stages:
Dentists can spot many of the warning signs of oral cancer before you start to become aware of the more worrying symptoms. Using professional lights and mirrors, they examine areas of your mouth that are not visible to you when you look in the mirror, and they will quickly spot unusual lesions or areas of discoloration. If you see your dentist at least twice a year, you can feel secure in the knowledge that any potential signs of mouth cancer will be noticed before the disease has a chance to reach an advanced stage.
2) You can receive treatment for dry mouth:
If you suffer from dry mouth, your body does not produce an adequate amount of saliva. Although you may not yet have noticed any problems with dryness, your dentist can notice the signs during a routine check-up. While this may not sound like a particularly important discovery, there are two reasons why you should care about a diagnosis of dry mouth. Firstly, the condition can lead to dental health problems if it remains untreated, as bacteria will begin to collect in your mouth and will make you more likely to develop cavities and gum disease. Your dentist can give you a saliva substitute that will compensate for the lack of natural moisture in your mouth, helping to preserve your teeth and gums. Secondly, dry mouth can be caused by some serious health problems (such as Sjögren’s syndrome and Parkinson’s disease).
3) You can discover that you have a problem with bruxism:
Many people grind their teeth during the night as a response to stress, but are entirely unaware that this is causing them to experience seemingly unrelated symptoms (such as chronic headaches or ear pain). Your dentist may notice that some of your teeth are worn down, or that grinding your teeth has led to jaw joint inflammation that changes the way your mouth moves when it opens and closes. Once it becomes obvious that you grind your teeth, your dentist can make you a mouth guard that will aim to reduce jaw pain, headaches and potential tooth damage.
4) You will reduce your likelihood of developing diabetes complications:
Whether you already suffer from diabetes or simply want to make that it is quickly diagnosed if you begin to develop it, you should visit your dentist at least twice a year. Compared to the general population, diabetics are susceptible to more serious cases of gum disease and also more likely to develop acute oral infections, so seeing your dentist will ensure that these problems are addressed before they become chronic or difficult to treat. Meanwhile, your dentist may be the one who suggests that you visit your doctor to discuss a possible diabetes diagnosis, as undiagnosed diabetes can cause noticeably loosened teeth and bleeding gums.
5) You will be alerted to signs of osteoporosis:
Osteoporosis is an extremely common condition in the elderly population, and it is especially likely to develop in older women. People with osteoporosis have brittle bones, so they are more likely to suffer from painful fractures. It is important to know if you are developing this health problem so that you can be seen by a specialist and make appropriate lifestyle changes. Surprisingly, dentists are often the first to notice osteoporosis, as it causes certain subtle bone changes that make your gum line recede.
6) You can prepare for pregnancy:
If you and your partner have recently been discussing the prospect of having children, scheduling a dental checkup is an important step to take before trying to conceive. When you are pregnant, cosmetic dental procedures (such as whitening) are discouraged, so it makes sense to organize any such procedures prior to your pregnancy. More importantly, once you are pregnant you should not acquire any new fillings because the process of having teeth filled carries with it a risk of mercury entering the baby’s bloodstream. If you have your mouth examined prior to conception, you can schedule any necessary fillings and avoid further dental problems as a result.
7) You can avoid losing teeth:
People who attend dental checkups twice a year are substantially less likely to end up losing any of their natural teeth. This statistic results from the fact that early detection of tooth and gum problems can lead to simple, inexpensive treatments that help you to avoid emergencies. For example, your dentist might notice a cavity and schedule a filling procedure before the tooth is beyond repair.
8) You will reduce your risk of endocarditis:
People who suffer from heart valve disease are more susceptible to endocarditis, which is a bacterial infection of the heart. Endocarditis tends to result when bacteria enters the blood stream from another location, so people with heart valve disease should try to avoid dental surgery where possible. The best way to avoid dental surgery is to quickly treat any problems with your teeth and gums before surgery is even necessary.
9) You can avoid the worsening of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease:
If you are a sufferer of COPD, you should see your dentist to reduce your risk of developing pneumonia and other respiratory problems that could worsen your condition. Although the nature of the connection is currently under investigation, studies on dental health show that people with untreated periodontal disease typically struggle with worse cases of COPD.
10) You can find out whether you have bad breath:
It is famously difficult a person to tell whether they have bad breath, but your dentist may notice it during an examination and try to figure out the cause. In some cases, this will lead to the discovery of underlying diseases that may be connected with the throat or digestive system. Even if the cause of your bad breath is benign, your dentist can offer advice on how to improve the situation.
Dr Gerald O’Connor is the principal dentist and owner of Killiney Dental. Dr O’Connor graduated with an honours dental degree from University College Cork in 1998. He has since worked as a general dental surgeon in the UK and Ireland and has over 20 years experience in the dental field, with a particular interest in cosmetic and restorative dentistry. Dr O’Connor is an active member of the Irish Dental Association, sitting on its Quality Patient Safety Committee, and is a Irish Dental Council registered dentist.