7 things your teeth say about you

Katherine - posted on 11/25/2010 ( 18 moms have responded )

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Some messages coming out of your mouth bypass the vocal chords. Turns out that your teeth, gums, and surrounding tissues also have plenty to say -- about your overall health.

"Your mouth is connected to the rest of your body," says Anthony Iacopino, dean of the University of Manitoba Faculty of Dentistry and a spokesperson for the American Dental Association. "What we see in the mouth can have a significant effect on other organ systems and processes in the body. And the reverse is also true: Things that are going on systemically in the body can manifest in the mouth."

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So stay attuned to the following warning messages, and have worrisome symptoms checked out by a dentist or doctor.
Dental warning #1: Flat, worn teeth plus headache

Sign of: Big-time stress

Many people are surprised to learn they're tooth-grinders. After all, they do this in their sleep, when they're not aware of it. And they underestimate the physical toll that stress can place on the body. "Crunching and grinding the teeth at night during sleep is a common sign of emotional or psychological stress," says Iacopino.

You can sometimes see the flatness on your own teeth, or feel it with the tongue. Or the jaw may ache from the clenching.

What else to look for: Headaches, which are caused by spasms in the muscles doing the grinding. Sometimes the pain can radiate from the mouth and head down to the neck and upper back, Iacopino says. Mouth guards used at night can relieve the symptoms and protect teeth.
Dental warning #2: Cracking, crumbling teeth

Sign of: Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

Older adults, especially, are vulnerable to teeth that appear to be cracking or crumbling away. The enamel becomes thin and almost translucent. But this erosion isn't a normal consequence of aging. In fact, it can happen at any age.

Disintegrating teeth are usually caused by acid that's coming up from the stomach and dissolving them, Iacopino says. The cause: Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD, also called acid reflux disease). GERD causes stomach acid to back up into the esophagus -- and from there, it's a short distance to the mouth for some of the damaging acid. GERD is a chronic disorder caused by damage or other changes to the natural barrier between the stomach and the esophagus.

What else to look for: Dry mouth and heartburn are related GERD symptoms. (But in an older adult in someone else's care -- in a nursing home, for example -- these complaints may go unreported.) Cracking or chipping teeth in a younger person is also a telltale sign of bulimia, the eating disorder in which the sufferer causes herself (or himself) to vomit before digesting. Same net result: Stomach acid washes up into the mouth, over time disintegrating the tooth enamel.
Dental warning #3: Sores that won't go away

Sign of: Oral cancer

Many people bite the insides of their mouth as a nervous habit. Others sometimes bite the gum accidentally, creating a sore. But when an open sore in the mouth doesn't go away within a week or two, it always warrants showing to a dentist or doctor. "We all injure our oral tissues, but if an area persists in being white or red rather than the normal healthy pink, this needs to be evaluated to rule out oral cancer," says Susan Hyde, an associate professor of clinical dentistry at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Dentistry.

More than 21,000 men and 9,000 women a year are diagnosed with oral cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. Most are over age 60. Oral cancer has a survival rate of only 35 percent, Iacopino says, but this is mainly because cases are often detected too late. Smokers are six times more likely to develop oral cancer, but one in four oral cancers develop in non-smokers.

What else to look for: Suspicious oral ulcers tend to be raised sores and often have red or white (or red and white) borders. They may lurk underneath the tongue, where they're hard to see. Bleeding and numbness are other signs, but sometimes the only sign is a sore that doesn't seem to go away. A biopsy usually follows a visual check.
Dental warning #4: Gums growing over teeth

Sign of: Medication problems

If you notice your gum literally growing over your tooth, and you're taking a medication for heart disease or seizures or you take drugs to suppress your immune system (such as before a transplant), it's well worth mentioning this curious development to your prescribing doctor.

"A swelling of the gums to where it grows over the teeth is a sign the dosage or the medication need to be adjusted," the ADA's Anthony Iacopino says. Certain drugs can stimulate the growth of gum tissue. This can make it hard to brush and floss, inviting tooth decay and periodontal disease.

What else to look for: The overgrowth can cause an uncomfortable sensation. In extreme cases, the entire tooth can be covered.
Dental warning #5: Dry mouth

Sign of: Sjogren's syndrome, diabetes

Many things can cause dry mouth, from dehydration and allergies to smoking and new medications. (In fact, hundreds of drugs list dry mouth as a side effect, including those to treat depression and incontinence, muscle relaxants, antianxiety agents, and antihistamines.) But a lack of sufficient saliva is also an early warning of two autoimmune diseases unrelated to medicine use: Sjogren's syndrome and diabetes.

In Sjogren's, the white blood cells of the body attack their moisture-producing glands, for unknown reasons. Four million Americans have Sjogren's, 90 percent of them women. Twenty-four million people in the U.S. have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, a metabolic disease caused by high blood sugar.

What else to look for: Other signs of diabetes include excessive thirst, tingling in the hands and feet, frequent urination, blurred vision, and weight loss. In Sjogren's, the eyes are dry as well as the mouth, but the entire body is affected by the disorder. Because its symptoms mimic other diseases (such as diabetes), people are often misdiagnosed and go several years before being properly diagnosed.
Dental warning #6: White webbing inside cheeks

Sign of: Lichen planus

The last thing you might expect to discover while brushing your teeth is a skin disease. But it happens. Lichen planus, whose cause is unknown, is a mild disorder that tends to strike both men and women ages 30 to 70. The mucus membranes in the mouth are often a first target.

Oral lichen planus looks like a whitish, lacy pattern on the insides of the cheeks. (The name comes from the same roots as tree lichen, a lichen that has a similar webbed, bumpy appearance.) Seventy percent of lesions appear in the mouth before they strike other parts of the body, says professor Anthony Iacopino.

What else to look for: Another common area where a lichen planus rash may appear is the vagina. Lichen planus often goes away on its own, but sometimes treatment is necessary.
Dental warning #7: Crusting dentures

Sign of: Potential aspiration pneumonia

Most people don't connect dentures (false teeth) with pneumonia, other than to think they're both words that often refer to the world of the elderly. And yet the two have a potentially deadly connection. "A leading cause of death in older people is aspiration pneumonia, often from inhaling debris around the teeth and dentures," Iacopino says.

In aspiration pneumonia, foreign material is breathed into the lungs and airway, causing dangerous (even fatal) inflammation. Too often, the problem stems from people in the care of others -- those in nursing homes, for example -- who fail to clean dentures properly. Dentures need to be removed daily from the mouth, cleaned with a special brush, and stored in a cleansing solution.

What else to look for: A soft, crusty material developing around dentures. With proper cleaning, though, you don't have to worry about other red flags. "It's amazing. You can get a 100-percent reduction in what's otherwise a leading cause of death for denture wearers," Iacopino says.



I'm a grinder, my molars are ground to nothing. Pretty bad.

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18 Comments

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Shontae - posted on 11/30/2010

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I just found out by my husband that i grind my teeth in my sleep, which now makes sense of the constant headaches I get....wow. Thanks for the info.

Meghan - posted on 11/26/2010

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LOL it totally makes sense now (I had to google it cause I thought it was one of those new fangled myths), I had just never heard that before...and then there was the sales pitch to buy a certain kind of gum and mints to reduce the affects

Jackie - posted on 11/26/2010

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That's true Meghan. The bacteria that causes cavities, we're are not born with. It's is likely passed down from parents or others. That's why you're not supposed to let your kids eat or drink after you. And that's why you're not supposed to clean a binky with your mouth after it's been dropped. That's why your son would be considered high risk because if you are prone to cavities, then it's likely he will get the bacteria from you. Does that make sense?

Meghan - posted on 11/26/2010

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how about this...I was at the dentist last week and I have bad enamel and blah blah, so the dentist tells me that it is most likely because there is some sort of bacteria that is contagious and was passed on by my mom and dad (which ever one carries the bacteria) kissing me. My son is also high risk...WTF???

Jackie - posted on 11/26/2010

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OMFG! Where do I begin....



I had really really crowded teeth and that caused so many problems! When I was 24 I decided that I was going to do something about it. I started going to the dentist at least once a month for cluster appts, meaning they would do as much work as they could in the allotted amount of time. After all the work had been done, which included just about every tooth in my mouth having something done to it whether it was a filling or whatever. 9 teeth yanked including my wisdoms. Then came the braces. I have had them on for about 3 1/2 years now and they come off (supposedly) next week! Can I get a HELL YEAH?!

So roughly $10,000 later (including what insurance has paid) the damn things still aren't perfect. When the braces come off, I need a bridge and 3 crowns that are going to cost probably $800.00 each. I've also been woken up by Jon a few times to tell me to stop grinding my teeth. He's even grabbed my jaw in the middle of the night to get me to stop. I never knew it so I wonder how long I've been doing it.



My mom has been plagued with gum problems but Dad has perfect teeth and gums just like my Bro.



Trust me when I say it's a never ending battle! not to mention, a VERY expensive one.

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I used to grind my teeth in my sleep according to an ex.



Don't anymore ... guess it was just him!

Sharon - posted on 11/25/2010

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UGH Morgan REALLY? I could cry. There have been days I"ve used listerine twice. I think I'll just go smother myself with my bedpillow....

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I'm a grinder too but it's because of my sleep apnea. Now that we have that under control, I don't grind anymore!

LaCi - posted on 11/25/2010

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I'm a grinder. Started after I had kids. Didn't used to do it :/



That's what I'm told anyway. I never have pain, boyfriend hasn't noticed. Dentist said my teeth are slightly worn though.

Katherine - posted on 11/25/2010

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Never had a cavity; however that's not actually a good sign....so I've been told.

Morgan - posted on 11/25/2010

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hey Sharron maybe thats why, My dentist said to only use listerine every other day at max, because it kills the good germs too, the ones that help protect our teeth and can cause more cavities :)

Sharon - posted on 11/25/2010

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My mouth is a perpetual wreck. I have good looking teeth but I'm plagued with cavity after cavity. I'm not on any perpetual medications either. I brush two or three times a day & floss daily AND I use listerine. Lol so I guess my life & mouth just sucks

Jodi - posted on 11/25/2010

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I have been told by my both my doctor and my dentist that if it grows in your mouth you can bet it's growing in your veins and arteries. Incessant plaque that doesn't get brushed away is a good indicator of plaque of the blood stream and so is tartar. (Heart disease and high cholesterol run in my family, that's why I was told this!)
Fortunately, I have been blessed with excellent teeth and gums, at age 25 I got my second ever cavity during my first pregnancy! My sister is a tooth grinder, and it's disgusting to listen to!! lol Makes me cringe!

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