Disease Detection and Oral Health

By taking medical and oral histories, monitoring blood pressure, conducting head and neck exams, and focusing on extensive oral exams, dental hygienists are gaining a reputation as experts in preventive intervention. They are alerting their patients to the possibilities that they may have a life altering systemic illness, and they are often doing so early enough to save lives.

Many dental hygienists consider it part of their job to detect the presence of illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension in their patients. Although dental hygienists don't make a diagnosis, they explain to the patient what they find and the possible causes.

For example:

Cancer - Even though oral cancer is easily detected and often curable in its early stages, oral and throat cancers are a major cause of death in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute. Most dental hygienists conduct oral cancer screenings at every visit.

Eating disorders - 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 manifestations of the disease, such as the disintegration of the teeth.

HIV - Another disease which often manifests itself in the mouth first is HIV disease. Because some of the earliest signs of HIV disease appear in the mouth, first, routine oral health care services are needed to monitor changes in the mouth that may indicate a weak immune system or other signs identified as AIDS indicators.

Heart - Yet 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 possible links between periodontal and cardiovascular diseases.