The signs of serious disease hidden INSIDE your mouth – from cancer to HIV and how to check | The Sun09/09/2023
WE use our mouths constantly – from sipping on wine to chatting with our mates, and of course, scoffing down the foods we love.
Brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing is drummed into us when we're younger, and reinforced by dentists as we get older.
But beyond cleaning methods, how much do you really know about your own mouth and what it says about the rest of your body?
According to Dr Jon Hewitt, a dentist at Smmmile, most people are unaware of disease that can be spotted in the mouth.
“There have been two recent occasions where I’ve personally spotted potential signs of cancer within patients, who thankfully went for screening and were able to catch it within its early stages," he tells Sun Health.
"That’s why it’s so important that people continue to visit their dentist," he adds.
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But figures suggest nearly 6million adults have been unable to get an NHS dental appointment in the past two years, meaning many Brits could be missing out on life-saving diagnoses.
Dr Jon and Dr Rizwan Mahmood, a dentist from Ruh Dental, London, share some of the diseases dentists look for in your mouth, which you could try and check for yourself by using a mirror.
Having an ulcer on your lips, inside of your cheek or on your gums that won't go away could be a sign of HIV.
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) attacks the body’s immune system and in rare cases it can lead to Aids if the body’s self defences are crippled so much a patient’s life is at threat.
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There's currently no cure for HIV, but there are very effective drugs that enable most people with the virus to live a long and healthy life, provided it's caught early.
It's estimated that around 106,890 people are living with HIV in the UK.
According to Dr Jon, oral lesions are found in the mouths of 70-90 per cent of HIV positive patients.
This is because a person with untreated HIV will have a weakened immunity
"Other signs in the mouth include fungal infections, necrotising gum disease and a condition called kaposi sarcoma," he says.
Kaposi sarcoma is a rare type of cancer caused by a virus, which affects the skin and internal organs.
Diabetes is a serious disease that causes a person's blood sugar levels to become dangerously high.
Common symptoms include needing to pee more than normal, weight loss and fatigue.
But having "fruity" smelling breath can also be a sign of the condition.
Dr Rizwan describes the "fruity" breath as smelling much like pear drop sweets, or nail varnish – so not too bad.
"This is known as diabetic ketoacidosis, which is a dangerous and potentially life-threatening condition in which your blood sugar is so high it starts turning acidic," he tells the Sun.
"Diabetes can also weaken the immune system which makes it easier for fungal infections to develop in the mouth, causing slow healing from procedures or injuries," Dr Jon adds.
These are issues mainly seen in people with both type 1 diabetes and type 2.
There are a record five million people thought to have type 1 or type 2 diabetes in the UK – and of these 850,000 don’t know they have it.
Type 1 diabetes means the body's immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin.
Type 2 is when the body does not produce enough insulin, or the body's cells do not react to insulin.
Untreated, unregulated diabetes can lead to long-term complications, such as heart disease, kidney damage, vision loss or even death.
3. Gum disease
A few drops of blood after some overzealous flossing might seem harmless, but don’t ignore it.
Bleeding, swollen or red gums can be a sign of gum disease, according to Dr Rizwan, a condition half of all adults in the UK are suffering from.
Not only can it lead to tooth loss, but there is a growing body of evidence suggesting the disease is linked to life-threatening conditions like dementia and heart disease.
In its early stages, gum disease can be treated at home – but it's still advised to see your dentist if you can.
According to NHS, you should brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day – and spit after brushing, do not rinse.
It says: "Clean in between your teeth every day using floss or interdental brushes.
"Make sure you replace your toothbrush every one to three months."
And see a dentist and dental hygienist for regular check-ups, it explains.
There, your dentist might advise you to get your teeth cleaned by a hygienist.
Having swollen, bloody and sore gums could also be a sign of a type of blood cancer, called leukaemia.
But this blood which comes from your gums is likely to have a "green tinge," Dr Jon says.
Other signs of the disease you can spot in your mouth, such as spontaneous bleeding from the lips, palate or tongue or regular ulcers, he says.
"There are also areas outside the mouth the dentist will assess such as enlarged or swollen lymph nodes in the neck or jaw area which may lead to a referral and potential life saving early diagnosis," Dr Jon adds.
Leukaemia is a type of blood cancer that affects people of all ages, with 10,000 people getting diagnosed in the UK every year.
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Overall survival rate for the disease stands at just over 50 per cent, making it one of the most deadly forms of cancer.
Other symptoms of leukaemia outside of the mouth include a fever, chills, weight loss, fatigue, easy bruising, tiny red spots on skin and recurrent nosebleeds.
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