By Jed J. Jacobson, DDS, MS, MPH, chief science officer and senior vice president, Delta Dental of Michigan, Ohio and Indiana


Your mouth is the gateway to your entire body, and it may be the best place to start when evaluating your overall health.

More than 90% of common diseases have oral symptoms and can be detected in the dental chair. This means that skipping your regular dental exam isn’t only putting your mouth at risk, but also the rest of your body.

Signs and symptoms of more than 120 non-dental diseases can now be detected through a routine oral exam. These include cancer, diabetes, heart disease, HIV and many nutritional problems. During your oral exam, your dentist examines your head, neck and mouth for signs of something more serious going on elsewhere in your body.

Dentists also monitor symptoms like breath odor, unexplained sores and tooth erosion. Other oral clues that may indicate a serious health problem include:

  • Anemia: Burning, fiery red tongue, inflammation of the corners of mouth or pale gum tissues
  • Diabetes: Dry mouth, distinctive breath odor, burning tongue, high rate of tooth decay, inflammation and infections in the mouth
  • Anorexia nervosa and bulimia: Chemical erosion of tooth enamel, fillings that appear to be raised above the eroded tooth surfaces, sensitive teeth, enlargement of the parotid glands making the face look full and round, and sweet breath aroma
  • Kidney failure: Delayed tooth development in children, dry mouth, odor, metallic taste and ulcers on the tongue and gums
  • Deficient immune system (HIV positive): Unexplained sores, red mouth due to opportunistic yeast infections (thrush mouth), non-removable white areas on the sides of the tongue
  • Heart disease: Pain radiating to the jaw caused by insufficient oxygen to the heart muscle

Dentists are disease detectives, and they are at the forefront of saving lives. Not only can dentists detect non-dental diseases, but the clues they find often identify these problems in their early stages. Early recognition of these serious health problems is key for receiving appropriate diagnosis and referral for treatment.

Help your dentist detect serious health problems by visiting regularly for your exams. Provide a complete medical history, and inform him or her of any recent health developments, even if they seem unrelated to your oral health.

For more information on the connection between your mouth and body, watch Delta Dental’s brief and entertaining video, “Dentists are Disease Detectives.”


ABOUT DELTA DENTAL: As the state’s largest dental benefits carrier, Delta Dental of Indiana offers a full range of individual and group dental plans for more than 660,000 people. Through education, philanthropy and advocacy, Delta Dental of Indiana is bringing oral health within reach for Indiana children and adults.