Accessibility links

Breaking News

HEALTH REPORT - Dental Examinations - 2003-12-09

Broadcast: December 10, 2003

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Teeth are an important part of any holiday celebration. After all, it's difficult to enjoy a meal without them. So this week we talk about dental health.

Dentists say people should have their mouth examined about every six months to make sure their teeth are healthy. But dentists look for more than holes in teeth and problems with the gum tissue around them. Examinations are also important because they can show medical problems in other parts of the body.

In fact, the mouth is considered a warning system for sickness, and more. For example, signs of damage can mean that a person has been the victim of violence. The mouth can also show that a person has an eating disorder, bulimia. People with bulimia eat large amounts of food, then force themselves to vomit. The insides of their teeth will appear worn. This is because the chemicals in stomach acid eat away the surface of the teeth.

A dentist can also see in a patient’s mouth the beginning of diseases such as measles or mumps. An area of unusual skin on a patient’s lip may be a sign of syphilis, an infection spread through sex.

If the patient has bone loss in the mouth, a dentist will suspect the disease diabetes. Someone whose gums appear white may have leukemia -- blood cancer. And a person whose gums appear too red may not get enough vitamin D. Lack of vitamin D causes a disease called rickets.

Experts say early signs of more than forty health problems can be seen in a person’s mouth or on the tongue. These include the deadly disease AIDS and a lack of many different vitamins. When dentists recognize possible signs of disease, they send the patients for medical tests, or to a doctor for treatment.

In the case of people who use tobacco, some dentists organize programs to help people stop. Smoking cigarettes can cause mouth, lung and throat cancer. It also can increase the severity of other mouth problems such as gum disease. Chewing tobacco can also cause mouth cancer. The nicotine in tobacco affects the gum and soft tissue inside the cheek.

Finally, as any dentist will tell you, teeth require daily care. This means not only brushing them, but also using dental floss to help prevent gum infections.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Nancy Steinbach.