The mouth is a good warning signpost

27th October 2017
Oral cancer accounts for several male deaths Source:The Midweek Sun

While most people see oral health only as having a beautiful smile and minty-fresh breath, experts say infections inside your mouth can cause health problems in other parts of the body and signal diseases such as leukemia, heart disease and diabetes. At the annual Botswana Dental Association (BODEA) scientific congress held at Cresta Lodge over the weekend, Specialist Cardiologist, Dr Kiran Bhagat gave a presentation on how oral health is a window to overall health.

“The mouth can be a good warning signpost,” stated Dr Bhagat. An example he shared was of people with periodontitis, a severe gum disease, which he said, “often have risk factors that not only put their mouth at risk, but their heart, blood vessels as well as affect an unborn child.” He said diabetes, leukemia and immune compromised patients would exhibit oral signs of disease.

Dr Bhagat said oral candidiasis; also known as oral thrush, can be linked to a number of conditions like HIV while severe gum disease can sometimes be an indication someone has diabetes. Erosion or corrosion of the teeth, he said could be associated with reflux and swollen gums that bleed easily, something that can be seen in people with leukemia.

“Many times, these are the first outward signs of the disease and a keen eye could facilitate the diagnosis,” he said as he called on medical professionals to look at patients holistically when they treat them. Dental Surgeon at Princess Marina Hospital, Dr Boitumelo Tau said it is crucial not to wait for pain before visiting a dentist.

“Nearly all oral diseases cause absolutely no pain until they are quite advanced,” she told The Midweek Sun in an interview on the sidelines of the congress. “That includes tooth decay, periodontal disease, and oral cancer.” Oral cancer, she said, is in the top 10 most common cancer diagnosed in men in Botswana and due to late diagnosis, more than half of the patients die of the disease.

“The only positive way to impact this devastating outcome is with yearly physical examination of the oral cavity, head, and neck, as performed in the dentist’s office. Such examinations, routine in dentistry, are not so routine during general medical visits,” she said. Meanwhile Vice Chairperson of BODEA, Dr Reba Matthews said the theme for the conference, ‘Oral health is the beginning of good general health,’ was relevant as oral health is not separate from overall health.“The same mechanisms of inflammation and infection exist within the mouth as they do in the rest of the body,” said Dr Matthews.

She said the two-day conference which was attended by other oral health practitioners from around the country and the SADC region, afforded dentists an opportunity to keep abreast with the current developments in the medical fraternity as well as to provide dentists with clinical skills, so that they would be able to provide quality and comprehensive oral health care.

BODEA was launched in 1999 with a membership of 50 people, but has since increased to more than 100 dentists countrywide, cutting across private practice, mines and government hospitals. Dr Matthews said the main objectives of the association were among others to promote the practice, repress malpractice and settle disputed points of practice.

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