While a physical examination, lab work, and medical imaging tests are the primary methods of diagnosing health conditions, there are other ways your healthcare providers can detect systemic disease. Your dentist and dental hygienist may be able to detect health problems just by looking inside your mouth. Here are three systemic medical disorders that may cause oral symptoms and what you can do about them:
Healthy gum tissue is normally light to medium pink in color. Your dental professional may suspect that you have underlying anemia if your gums are pale or gray. Anemia may be even more likely if you have other symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, dizziness, shortness of breath, and a fast heart rate.
If your dentist or hygienist suspects that you are anemic based on your oral examination, you will be referred to your primary care physician for further evaluation and treatment. If anemia is diagnosed, include more iron-rich foods, such as lean meat, spinach, kale, and beans, in your daily meal plans.
You may also want to avoid drinking coffee, taking calcium supplements, or taking aspirin, as these can all interfere with iron absorption. Depending upon the severity of your anemia, your doctor may recommend that you take an iron supplement until your blood tests return to normal.
White patches or plaques on your tongue, lining of your cheeks, or back of your throat may indicate the presence of a yeast infection. Also known as oral candidiasis, this type of fungal infection may mean that your blood sugar level is very high or that you have diabetes.
Fungi tend to grow in areas of the body that have high concentrations of glucose, and in the diabetic patient, the oral cavity is one of these places. If your dentist discovers white patches inside your mouth, a visit to your physician is in order.
A simple blood test can determine if your blood sugar is high, and if it is, your doctor may recommend that you follow a special diabetic diet, take oral anti-glycemic medications, or take insulin. Once you get your blood sugar under control, your oral yeast infection is likely to resolve.
While bleeding gums are common and most commonly related to gingivitis or aspirin use, bleeding in the absence of gum disease or consumption of blood thinning medication may indicate the presence of a platelet disorder.
If your dentist or hygienist notices that your gums bleed profusely when probed with dental instruments, especially if the bleeding fails to stop after the application of pressure, you will be referred to your medical doctor for a complete blood count to check for a low platelet count.
If your blood work indicates that your platelet count is decreased, your doctor may recommend that you stop taking certain medications or dietary supplements, and you may also be given certain drug treatments to help stimulate platelet function.
See your dentist if you notice white patches in your mouth, oral bleeding, or pale gums. While these symptoms may resolve on their own without any treatment, you should make an appointment with your physician to determine the cause and appropriate treatment.