10 Things Your Dentist Can Diagnose

Besides giving you a brighter smile, did you know proper dental care can also prevent hardened arteries? It's true. In fact, regular checkups can give dentists a heads up on other diseases and conditions you may not know you have.

Leeda Andrews found out from her dentist that she had acid relux disease. The disorder was actually leaving holes in her teeth.

"I was shocked. I wouldn't have thought my stomach would have had such an effect."

Turns out such findings in the dental chair are not uncommon. Dentist Joseph Kravitz says it's part of their job to to look for signs of other medical conditions when they look in your mouth.

"This is about more than a cleaning. We're kind of like detectives or like sleuths."

Some of the things they find and what they mean? Tooth erosion and a burning or sour taste are symptoms of reflux disease. Type-two diabetes often results in bright red, bleeding gums and bad breath. An ammonia smell in the mouth is a sign of kidney disease. Accelerated tooth loss can be a sign of osteoporosis. And white spots in gums -- a symptom of oral cancer.

In fact, Dr. Kravitz says, "Oral cancer is probably the number one thing we find on patients. It's easy to find."

Inflamed gums, excess cavities and oral infections can be a sign of heart disease. Fiery red gums and wounds that won't heal are a sign of leukemia. And tooth erosion can indicate bulimia.

"You notice the upper back of the front teeth are thin and eroded and more yellow because the healthy white enamel color is gone."

It could be sleep apnea if a patient's tongue blocks their airway when they're tipped back in the chair. And a woman might be pregnant if blowing air on gums makes them bleed. Kravitz says these findings happen more often than you might imagine.

"At least 10 times, they didn't know they were pregnant before they came to see me."

And those are just 10 of the numerous reasons that the 40 percent of patients who don't get regular dental check ups, should. And if that's not enough, remember that studies have linked periodontal disease to hardened arteries. Researchers believe the presence of the bacteria that causes dental plaque buildup can have a negative effect on your cardiovascular health.

Dentists recommend you get checkups twice a year -- except when pregnant -- you should actually go four times a year. Pregnant women are more susceptible to disease.