What Your Mouth Says About Your Health

Your Mouth Reveals Health Problems

By Robin Westen

Your mouth has a lot to say about your health. Your teeth, gums, and tongue all give clues to what’s going on with the rest of our body. That’s why your doctor is likely to ask you to stick out your tongue and take a good look at what’s happening in there. Here are some conditions that may show up when you say “Ahhhhh.”

Gluten intolerance: Canker sores may be an indication of gluten intolerance or celiac disease. This is an inherited, immune system disorder in which the proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley cause damage to the lining of the small intestine. A recent study suggests a link between the mouth sores and intolerance for gluten. Study participants who ate a gluten-free diet healed their canker sores. Ask your doctor or dentist about a link if you have repeat canker sores. 

Pulmonary problems: Sarcoidosis, a condition characterized by the growth of inflammatory cells in areas like the lungs and lymph nodes, can manifest orally. The affected person may develop several painless mouth ulcers in the gums, cheek (buccal mucosa), and on the palate.

Crohn’s disease: This is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in which parts of the gastrointestinal tract become swollen. There are several telltale signs of Crohn’s disease (such as persistent diarrhea, abdominal cramps, etc.) but swelling of the lips, gums or mouth tissue, as well as canker sores, are other signs.

Blood Disorders: This condition can be verified upon completion of extensive blood tests, but the mouth can also hint at certain conditions such as anemia. A person with anemia will have the following oral symptoms: glossitis or inflammation of the tongue; oral candida; canker sores; or stomatitis. Stomatitis is a condition wherein the mucosal lining of the mouth becomes inflamed, and this could affect cheeks, gums, and the roof of the mouth. Vitamin and mineral deficiency: Too little B6 is indicated when the corners of the mouth are cracking. A swollen tongue, a shiny, red tongue or beefy tongue can be signs of iron deficiency. Similarly, a pale tongue can indicate anemia. GERD: Gastroesophogeal Reflux Disease or GERD iswhen stomach acids come up through the esophagus into the mouth. This usually takes place during sleep. The result is cracked and crumbling teeth caused by stomach acids. Hormonal imbalance: Bleeding gums can indicate a hormonal imbalance because receptors are embedded in gum tissues. That’s why during menopause women often suffer with bleeding and over-sensitive gums. Side effects from medications: Over-the-counter medicines, as well as those prescribed by a doctor, could have side effects including mouth ulcerations. Any type of medicine can trigger the formation of sores, but the most common culprits are NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and ACE inhibitors, which are primarily used to treat hypertension. Another adverse effect is dry mouth. This can be due to the effect of certain medications, like anticholinergic drugs, which decrease saliva production, and diuretics, which could cause dehydration.
Stress: Flat and worn teeth can mean you’re grinding your teeth while you sleep. The condition is called bruxism. Other clues are headaches and or jaw pain. As a result, teeth can develop stress fractures and grinders The scariest part of heavy bruxism for many patients is not being able open their mouths all the way. To protect your teeth, jaws and muscles, a custom mouth guard can be made by your dentist. Of course, managing your stress is the best solution. Robin Westen is ThirdAge's Medical Director. Check for her daily updates. Her latest book, co-written with Dr. Alyssa Dweck, is "V is for Vagina."  
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