You think of doctors as health professionals and dentists as mouth professionals. But did you know your mouth can tell you something important about your health? As we age, many of us put off visiting the dentist unless there is a major issue or a tooth falls out—despite the fact that the American Dental Association recommends regular dental visits and teeth cleaning. Yet in addition to major dental catastrophes, there are a bevy of other more subtle symptoms that prove your oral health can be compromised. Here are 15 subtle signs you must visit the dentist, according to some of the top dental experts in the country. And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don’t miss these 101 Unhealthiest Habits on the Planet.
Shahrooz Yazdani, DDS, from Yazdani Family Dentistry, points out that many people do not know that bruxism—also known as teeth grinding—is a common cause of migraines. “The constant grinding puts stress on the temporomandibular joints located on the side of your head by your ears, which can lead to severe headaches and migraines,” explains Dr. Yazdani. To prevent this, people should pay a visit to their dentist to get a customized stabilization splint, which is a comfortable mouthpiece that can help prevent you from grinding your teeth during sleep.
The dentist might not be the first person you think of calling when you are experiencing fatigue, but Atlanta-based cosmetic, implant and laser dentist Hugh Flax, DDS, points out that if you are waking up really tired every day and feeling unrested, it could be rooted in your teeth. “You may have sleep apnea which means you stop breathing repeatedly interrupting your sleep, which can cause heart attacks,” he explains. “Your dentist can look at your teeth and gums to determine if you’re clenching your teeth to open your airway.”
If it hurts when you chew your food, you should make an appointment to see your dentist. “That’s a sign of a cracked or infected tooth,” explains Dr. Flax.
Is it just you, or are people keeping their distance? Bad breath can be a social inconvenience, but it also signals a greater dental problem. “It could mean infection, poor dental hygiene or dry mouth,” says Dr. Flax. “All can cause bad breath.”
If your head is hurting a lot, it could be due to teeth-grinding problems such as TMJ or TMD, says Dr. Flax. “Your temporomandibular joint is a hinge that connects your jaw to the temporal bones of your skull, which are in front of each ear,” he explains.
Have you noticed that your saliva has been changing consistency? Nerissa Aquino, DDS, Owner of Palm City Family Dentists, points out that the thickening of saliva can be caused for an exhaustive variety of reasons, all of them meriting a visit to the dentist.
If you notice anything unusual growing in or around your mouth, call your dentist ASAP. “Oftentimes it can be a clogged salivary gland or something harmless, but on occasion, it can be the first symptoms of more concerning issues or illnesses,” says Dr. Aquino.
If you are feeling a lack of confidence due to your teeth, you should make an appointment with your dentist to explore your options. Charles Sutera, DMD, FAGD, points to surveys have shown that 48% of young adults have untagged themselves from a photo on Facebook because of their smile.
While ear pain can be caused by a true ear infection, it can also have a direct link to your dental wellbeing, points out Dr. Sutera. “Infections of the teeth and gums can create referred ear pain,” he explains. “The improper function of your temporomandibular (jaw) joints can also cause pain and ringing of the ears.”
Have you noticed that your gums seem to be receding? If your teeth are becoming more and more visible, it could be a sign of bone loss, points out Dr. Suerta. In order to figure out what exactly is causing the recession, you need to see your dentist ASAP.
In addition to grinding your teeth, clenching them can also do damage. “The constant grinding or clenching of your teeth can create progressive muscle soreness and premature wear of the teeth, and even receding gums,” explains Dr. Sutera.
If there is something going on with your gums—including bleeding, inflammation, or swelling—don’t hesitate to call your dentist. “These are signs of infection and gum disease, which can lead to heart disease, diabetes, problems with pregnancy and stroke,” explains Flax.
Maybe you aren’t experiencing any dental issues, but if you haven’t seen the dentist for a year or more, that is reason enough to make an appointment. According to studies, at least 19% of the population are avoiding the dentist because of dental anxiety. “Just like all fears, avoidance strengthens dental anxiety and puts people at risk for more complex dental issues later on,” says Dr. Sutera. “What most people don’t realize is how common this is. Dentists understand and can help. It starts by letting the dentist know about your anxiety so you can discuss different types of medication, sedation, and other methods for reducing dental anxiety. It’s important that you feel comfortable with your dentist and that they listen to your concerns.”
Have you noticed any strange sensations in your teeth when you sip on a glass of ice water or a piping hot coffee? If you are experiencing any sensitivity to hot or cold substances, Cara Pensabene, MD, of EHE Health encourages you to have your dentist do an exam. It could signify anything from a cavity to an enamel erosion.
If you notice that your retainer isn’t fitting the way it used to, it might be time for a new one. “When the teeth begin shifting or crowding, it breeds permanent changes to the balance of the jaw, which can lead to TMJ dysfunction later in life,” explains Dr. Sutera. “Crowded teeth also put patients at higher risk for decay and gum disease because it can be harder to reach and remove the bacteria hiding in tight nooks and crannies.” And to avoid having to go to the doctor at all, don’t miss this essential list of the 40 Silent Signs of Illness.