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Family Care Dental Clinic

Doctors’ Notes: Your mouth is a gold mine of information about overall health

Doctors’ Notes: Your mouth is a gold mine of information about overall health

The eyes may be the window to the soul but the mouth reveals much about the rest of your body. Canker sores, dry mouth, swollen gums and sores that don’t heal — these could be important symptoms of medical issues you shouldn’t ignore.

In our health system, there are doctors who deal with the mind and those who care for the body, and there’s a separate specialist for every organ. The mouth in particular tends to be seen as a separate entity. That’s a shame because the oral cavity is a gold mine of information about your overall health — and it’s the only part of the body that receives a thorough, up-close checkup twice a year.

Take the common canker sore — incredibly annoying and quite painful, these mouth “ulcers” are common enough, especially among young children. Generally, they’re harmless, but they could be a sign of vitamin B12, folic acid, iron or zinc deficiency. Sometimes, they can also signify a gut problem, like celiac disease, or inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis. In rare cases, an overactive or underactive immune system is the culprit, and blood tests will reveal your white cell count is off.

Most canker sores appear in spots where the skin lining the mouth is very thin, such as along the cheek or under the tongue. Usually they’re caused by a trauma to this sensitive area — if you’re a cheek or tongue biter, for example, you might get them regularly. If you’re always getting a canker sore in the same place, it’s possible that a tooth or filling is irritating the thin lining of your cheek.

If you start getting a lot of canker sores very frequently, it’s time to see a health provider — especially if new ones start before the old ones heal, or they’re not going away within two weeks, or they’re accompanied by fevers. Mouth pain is valuable as a diagnostic tool because it’s so debilitating. We may miss other symptoms, but nobody fails to notice a canker sore.

The mouth is thought be a miracle because it heals so well and so quickly. You can injure your mouth very badly and it still repairs itself without scarring. (Saliva is a big reason for this: it keeps the mouth clean and the tissues healthy.) That’s why it’s important to pay attention when a sore or injury is not healing properly in the mouth. As a rule of thumb, oral problems should clear up within two weeks. Anything longer than that, especially involving the tongue, warrants a trip to the dentist. In rare cases, a sore could actually be a tumour.

As physical exams become less common during routine medical care, oral pathologist — someone who diagnoses and studies serious diseases of the mouth — hope we’ll recognize the role that oral care can play in diagnosing overall health issues. For that reason alone, we urge everyone to get regular, twice-yearly dental checkups. Don’t panic when you get a common canker sore, but keep a watchful eye on problems with the mouth — these could be valuable clues that will help your doctors to learn more about your health.

Canker sores

Canker sores are the most common mouth problem, occurring in 20 per cent of the population. They’re round and yellow with a red rim, and last up to 10 days. If you get the occasional sore, you don’t need to do anything other than manage the pain. You can buy protective bioadhesive products (oral “Band-Aids”) that cover the exposed nerve endings and provide relief while you wait for them to go away.

Baking soda or salt water rinses are great for keeping the area clean, and are especially helpful if you get frequent sores. Topical painkillers will help for a few minutes so that you can eat.

Sometimes switching to a toothpaste without sodium lauryl sulfate, the ingredient that makes toothpaste foam, can be helpful. Or just brush with plain baking soda for a week. A food allergy could also be at work, but it’s tough to identify a culprit since we put so many things in our mouths. Stress causes these irritants too, by lowering the immune system. Students sometimes get canker sores before exams, for example — another sign from the mouth that something is amiss with the body.

Contact Family Care Dental Clinic for your consultation today!

We at Family Care Dental Clinic offer our clients a wide range of comprehensive dental services for the whole family. Our dentists can help everyone in your family understand the importance of proper oral hygiene over time and the positive effects it has on your health. At Family Care Dental Clinic, we treat our clients to a soothing environment where they can receive quality dental care no matter what their needs are. Call (604) 987-3545 or write us at to schedule an appointment with a member of our excellent team!

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