So often when I talk to people, I hear the words it’s “only” a dental appointment or that dental care is being “put off” because of too many medical appointments, as if the mouth doesn’t matter.
The reality is that your mouth is an important part of your body. For most of us, it’s the primary way we take in our nutrition as well as our means of communication (via speaking). You should think of your dentist as a doctor for your mouth.
What does the dentist do?
Well, the most obvious thing the dentist does is to check your teeth. Tooth decay or cavities are easily treated when small, but if they get too large, you may have to decide between a root canal and removing the tooth. Your dentist will also check how your teeth come together (your “bite”). Some habits, such as clenching or grinding your teeth, may wear away tooth structure or cause the tooth to loosen. Other habits, such as drinking lots of soda or eating lots of citrus fruit, can erode away tooth structure, just like waves erode the shoreline. But your teeth aren’t the only thing your dentist will check.
Your dentist also checks the bone and gums which support your teeth. Bone loss weakens this support and results in loose teeth that must be removed.
Your cheeks, tongue and other soft tissues are checked both visually and by touch. Your dentist is looking and feeling for abnormal lumps, bumps, or sores that might indicate a problem such as oral cancer. If her or she notices anything, the dentist will ask follow up questions to determine how long it’s been there and if there’s a known cause. You may also be asked to return in about two weeks time for a follow up. Most traumatic injuries (burning the roof of your mouth, biting your cheek while eating etc.) will heal within two weeks. If your area has not healed, further treatment will be recommended. This is important because Oral Cancer is occurring more frequently and in younger age groups with each passing year. When found in an early stage, there is an 80-90% survival rate. Yet most oral cancers are not diagnosed until late stage, and as a result someone dies from oral cancer every hour, every day.
Similarly, your dentist may also check your head and neck. Pain, sounds or stiffness in the jaw joint (or TMJ) may be an early indicator of arthritis or may signal another problem. Carotid artery blockages sometimes show up on dental panoramic x-rays. Thyroid nodules or swollen lymph nodes may be detected by this exam also.
And you know that lengthy health history your dentist asks you to fill out? It does have a purpose. Your dentist is trained to notice how various answers fit together to form a pattern that might indicate an undiagnosed medical or dental issue.
So hopefully you now see that your dentist does more than just check your teeth and fill cavities. If you take care of your mouth, it will take care of you, and your dentist is one of the most valuable resources you have available to you for maintaining your quality of life.
If you do not have a dentist, you are invited to join Dr. Robb’s practice. Please call 440-960-1940 or contact us through the website at www.drjrobb.com We’ll be saving a seat for you.
**Note: The information in this article is not meant to replace the clinical judgement of your healthcare professionals.