The Mouth as a Marker for Disease

Is your mouth sending you a heads up about your health?

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The eye might be a window to your soul, but the mouth is the door to disease. While it might be hard to make the connection between tooth loss and a heart attack, what goes on in your mouth can foreshadow many diseases.

Pocket Watch

One look inside the mouth will reveal that there are bacteria everywhere. For the most, part we cohabitate without a worry - but badly-behaving bacteria can collect in gum pockets to cause swelling, bleeding and bone loss that in turn can cause teeth to loosen and fall out.

People with gum disease (periodontal disease and gingivitis), may harbor up to 500 species of bacteria, and the proximity of that bacteria to the normally sterile bloodstream can be worrisome. Bacteria can enter small blood vessels, travel to other parts of the body and release toxins and trigger inflammatory chemicals that assault arteries and organs. Gum disease and tooth loss is now considered a harbinger for bacterial pneumonia, diabetes, kidney disease and stroke. Periodontal bacteria have also been detected in the mouths and amniotic fluid of women who have experienced threatening premature labor, miscarriage and may contribute to low-birth weight.

Breath Tests

Breath can be telling too. More than 90% of the time bad breath (halitosis) emanates from bacteria living in gum pockets, under dentures and on the surface of the tongue. It is not only unpleasant to people close to you, but it may also be a clue to other medical conditions.

Oral cancers, lung cancer, certain leukemias and dry mouth syndromes such as Sjogren's syndrome can cause bacterial overgrowth that contribute to bad breath. And sometimes a systemic disease produces distinct chemical odors:

  • Sweet or fruity odor may indicate uncontrolled diabetes
  • Mousy ammonia odor may indicate liver disease
  • Urine-like fishy odor may indicate chronic kidney failure
  • And fecal odor may indicate intestinal blockage.

To find out if you have foul-smelling breath, ask a truthful friend, or lick your hand and smell the saliva.