Dentists may soon play a key role in the detection of a variety of diseases, including Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease (GORD) and anorexia nervosa, according to a new study from researchers at King’s College London.
The results of the study, which were recently published in the British Dental Journal, discovered that many of the medical conditions that cause the erosion of tooth enamel – referred to as erosive tooth wear (ETW) – can have significant, and possibly life-threatening, consequences if left undiagnosed or untreated.
After analyzing the findings of their study, researchers recommended that dentists stay on the lookout for the very specific oral signs of eating disorders, which include enamel erosion of the upper incisors, but also psychological and physical indicators of these conditions.
Early Detection Through Oral Health
Eating disorders impact the lives of roughly 725,000 people in the UK, at a cost that exceeds £15 billion annually. In the U.S., the condition impacts the lives of roughly 30 million Americans, with one person dying from an eating disorder every 62 minutes, according to the American Association of Anorexia Nervosa. The researchers involved in the report believe that early detection of the subtle signs of the developing condition, coupled with a referral to a general physician, could result in better health outcomes and significant savings.
In addition to eating disorders, the study also examined the role dentists could play in the early detection of GORD, a condition that develops when the reflux of stomach contents causes problematic symptoms, such as frequent episodes of heartburn. Stomach contents that are brought up into the mouth are highly acidic and repeated contact with tooth enamel can cause erosion and decay.
Researchers also examined the impact of alcoholism on oral health. Many alcoholics present with high levels of tooth decay and enamel erosion, frequently due to the regurgitation of stomach acids. This is the result of alcohol-induced gastritis and gastroesophageal reflux.
The research team wrote in response to their study, “There is a clear benefit to patients of the dental team being able to pick up on the early signs of conditions such as eating disorders or acid reflux, which may appear very subtle and difficult to detect. Dental examination should include the possibility of detecting signs of GORD and eating disorders, and if detected, appropriate referral…with medical professionals should be initiated to lead to better patient outcomes.”
The Gateway to the Body
If the mouth acts as the gateway to the body, then your downtown Portland dentist at City Dental acts as the gatekeeper. In recent years, a growing amount of research has shown that early oral indicators can say far more about our overall health than most people would think. While this most recent study suggests that dentists have the ability to help diagnose eating conditions and alcoholism early on, the current state of our oral health can also be used as a barometer for diagnosing everything from heart disease to diabetes.
An ability to assess the current state of more than just the health of our patients’ teeth and gums is just one of the reasons Dr. Bajuscak recommends that patients receive frequent exams and cleanings. What these and other studies are making clear is that we can no longer afford to simply ignore our oral health, or place less importance on dental care than we do regular physical checkups and exams.
Our oral health has a direct impact on our overall health. The better we care for the health of our teeth and gums, the healthier we all can become.