Even though oral cancer is easily detected and often curable in its early stages, throat cancer is a major cause of death in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute. Most dental hygienists conduct oral screenings at every visit and can advise patients of suspicious conditions.
Another disease with an oral connection is heart disease, the number one killer of men and women -- claiming more victims than all forms of cancer and AIDS combined. Numerous studies, according to the American Heart Association, have suggested a connection between periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease. For example, one recent study showed that the bacteria in dental plaque can lead to blood clots, a condition that occurs during heart attacks. Periodontal disease also has been linked to premature births and underweight babies.
Another disease that has oral manifestation is diabetes, recognized by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as the fourth leading cause of death in America. Diabetes and its related complications will cause more than 169,000 deaths this year. Although as many as 16 million people in the U.S. have the disease, half are unaware of their condition.
Dental hygienists also can see the signs of osteoporosis, a condition that affects 25 million Americans and accounts for 1.5 million fractures per year. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, older women are most susceptible, but low calcium intake, inadequate physical activity, and a family history of the disease can put anyone at risk.
A dental hygienist is in a position to notice these risk factors and symptoms while taking a medical history and conducting a thorough dental exam. Dental X-rays also can indicate the presence of osteoporosis. As in the case with osteoporosis, eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are far more common in women than men. In both disorders -- but especially bulimia, a condition in which compulsive eating is followed by self-induced vomiting -- there are oral signs of the disease.
Another disease which often manifests itself in the mouth first is HIV. Some of the earliest signs are a specific odor, sores and changes in the way the inside of the mouth looks.
Dental hygienists consider it part of their job to detect the presence of illnesses such as those described here. Although dental hygienists don't make a diagnosis, they explain what they found and urge patients to see a physician.
Americans spend billions of dollars for oral health services each year, but the cost of treatment is only part of the story. The burden of dental-related diseases is significant. In 1989, The American Fund for Dental Health reported Americans lost 28.7 million work or school days to dental problems. And the Coalition for Oral Health reports that 20 million work days are lost annually due to oral health problems -- despite the fact that oral health preventive services are some of the least costly health services available. According to information released by the Coalition on Oral Health, every dollar invested in preventive care saves between $8 and $50 of more costly care.
Dental hygienists are prevention specialists who understand that recognizing the connection between oral health and total health can prevent disease; treat problems while they are still manageable; and save critical health care dollars so there are enough resources to treat everyone.
While dental hygienists can detect certain illnesses and diseases, you should still see your medical doctor for regular healthcare visits and should not substitute the dental hygienist for your doctor.
Remember, only a dentist can diagnose your dental problems and offer the right treatment plan for you. If you need a dentist, call us at 1-866-970-0441 to be connected with one today.