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5 Oral Signs and Symptoms That Unravel Health Issues

January 1, 2019

5 Oral Signs and Symptoms That Unravel Health IssuesThe oral cavity is a window which can reveal critical information concerning wellness and overall health. An oral health care professional such as a dentist or hygienist is trained to perform a systematic medical history and oral examination to assess for underlying disorders. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation and National Institute of Health (NIH), a thorough oral examination can reveal underlying systemic issues as well as screen for oral cancer. Below are examples of 5 important oral signs and symptoms which may reveal underlying health issues.

1. Bleeding and inflamed gums
Bleeding gums are often related to inflammation such as that by plaque (tartar) biofilm along the interface of the gum and tooth or may be manifestation of a systemic condition. Plaque-induced gingivitis is the most common form of gum disease and may often progress to periodontal disease which may result in premature loss of teeth. “Peeling off” of gums can often reveal auto-immune conditions such as lichen planus, pemphigus vulgaris, or mucous membrane pemphigoid, or lupus. These conditions can often be a precursor to a dermatologic condition or may occur in isolation. Nutritional deficiencies such as Vitamin C (which is uncommon in the developed world) may manifest as bleeding and inflamed gums. Allergies to foods such as cinnamon, benzoates, or sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) may also trigger “red gums”.

2. Gum overgrowth
Gingival enlargement, or gum overgrowth, may occur secondary to hormone fluctuations such as puberty, menstruation, or pregnancy. Certain medications such as phenytoin (for epilepsy/ seizures), cyclosporin (to prevent organ transplant rejection), and nifedipine (for high blood pressure/ hypertension) may cause gingival overgrowth. Sometimes cancers such as leukemia or oral cancer may manifest as a progressively enlarging gingival overgrowth.

3. Taste changes and burning sensation of the mouth
Taste changes, or dysgeusia, is a condition where there is a diminished sensation of taste. This may be associated with damage to the taste buds by thermal injury or severe dehydration. Taste changes may be secondary to medications such as chemotherapeutics, radiation therapy, or by common medications which are detectable in saliva. Fungal infections such as candidiasis may cause metallic taste changes. Nutritional deficiencies such as vitamin B12, B6, and Zinc may present with loss or diminished taste sensation.

An altered sensation similar to that of “chards of glass”, “raw burning” or “bubbles in the mouth” may be related to neuropathic conditions such as burning mouth syndrome or oral dysesthesia. This commonly affects 1% of the population and among the most challenging conditions to diagnose due its wide variety of presentation. This condition is usually associated with major life stressors, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

4. Dry mouth
Dry mouth is a condition that can lead to difficulty in speaking, swallowing, and increase susceptibility to infections such as dental caries and yeast infections. The most common underlying causes of dry mouth are dehydration, excessive caffeine intake, medications, and anxiety. Autoimmune conditions such as Sjogren syndrome may affect tear-producing glands and be associated with secondary autoimmune joint disorders. Patients receiving cancer therapy such as radiation therapy to the head and neck or bone-marrow transplant may also develop dry mouth.

5. Dental caries
Dental caries is one of the most prevalent dental infections seen worldwide. An increased frequency of sugar intake results in bacteria constantly releasing acids and not allowing saliva to restore the mouth to a stable pH environment, which would have otherwise restored tooth mineralization. This process leads to caries formation. Dry mouth can often lead to severe caries along the surface of teeth by the gum-line. Increase generalized dental caries may reveal underling substance disorders such as methamphetamine use.

The mouth and face, often regarded as the orchestrator of our emotions, is a critical part of the body which reveals critical information regarding overall health and wellness. Be sure to have this discussion with your dentist or hygienist and have routine oral health examinations.

Dr. Ali Shazib and his wife, Dr. Sara Sheikh are co-owners of Kennebunk Center for Dentistry. Dr. Shazib’s clinical interests include oral medicine, dental oncology, and the link between oral and systemic health. You may contact them at 207-985-7944 or visit: for more information about their practice.

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