Serious diseases, including diabetes, cancer, and eating disorders, can manifest as signs and symptoms inside of the mouth.
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Your mouth can say a lot about what you're eating, and your dentist may be the first person to spot potential nutritional imbalances, according to a study in the November/December 2001 issue of General Dentistry, the clinical, peer-reviewed journal of the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), an organization of general dentists dedicated to continuing education.
Nutritional deficiencies result when there is an imbalance between what the body needs and what it is getting, according to Robert Dorsky, DMD, author of the report. And those imbalances are particularly reflected in the oral cavity, where soft tissue renews very quickly – often in as little as three to seven days. The sensitivity of oral tissue can be particularly telling regarding deficiencies in folic acid, zinc and iron, which can show up as gum disease. Other conditions, such as diabetes and infection can also show symptoms in the mouth.
As such, your dentist may be the first member of your health care team to notice potential nutritional problems. "The mouth is a mirror of overall nutritional health," says AGD spokesperson Bruce Burton, DMD, MAGD. "Health care is a team enterprise," Dr. Burton continued. "It is important that patients keep all members of their health care team well informed on their medical histories, lifestyle and eating habits, so they can work together to identify any risks." According to Dr. Dorsky, nutritional deficiencies limit the body's ability to fight disease, and in many cases the mouth is the first line of defense. Healthy gum tissue and saliva are crucial in fending off invading pathogens, Dr. Dorsky said.
Patients can improve their oral health and reduce the risk of periodontal (gum) disease by eating a balanced diet based on the well-known Food Pyramid, which recommends eating a variety of foods from the five major food groups – grains, fruits, vegetables, milk and meats. Vitamin and mineral supplements also can help preserve periodontal health and boost overall health and well-being. Milk, which contains high levels of calcium, is particularly important for oral health and strong teeth and bones.
Reviewed: January 2012
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