The Upside of Regular Vision and Dental Exams:
Early Warning Signs of Other Health Problems
Can your eye doctor or dentist save your life? It turns out the answer is yes. Taking advantage of employer-offered vision and dental benefits may have unexpected advantages. While the more obvious benefits of eye and dental exams are better vision and good oral health, routine vision and dental exams can also spotlight early warning signs of other health problems. What are some of these health issues, and how are they discovered by your ophthalmologist or dentist?
Andrew Iwach, MD, associate clinical professor of ophthalmology at the University of California San Francisco and executive director of the Glaucoma Center of San Francisco, notes:
“The eyes truly are unique real estate. They're the only place in the body where you can see a bare nerve, a bare artery, and a bare vein without doing any cutting. And the disease processes we see occurring in the eye are probably occurring in the rest of the body.”
It may be just a saying that eyes are the window to the soul, but in a very real way they are windows to the processes of the body. The medical conditions that can be spotted through an eye exam include such potential killers as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, aneurysms, HIV, and cancer.
Some eye symptoms that may reveal more serious health issues include:
- A bloody eye: While this usually occurs with a blow to the eye, sometimes it may be indicative of high blood pressure or a platelet disorder.
- Bulging eyes: This might be a sign of thyroid disease. If your eyes appear to be more prominent than they previously were, it could be a symptom of Graves’ disease or hyperthyroidism.
- Droopy eyelids: It is normal for your eyelids to droop a bit as you get older. However, in rare cases droopy eyelids may be a sign of a brain tumor or myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune disorder that weakens muscles throughout your body.
- Yellow eyes: This may be a sign of liver disease, gallstones, hepatitis, or pancreatic cancer.
- Hazy or blurred vision: While this could be completely eye-related, in some cases it might also be indicative of a stroke.
There are some things which your eye doctor can see with an exam that might not be as readily apparent as the things listed above. For instance, your ophthalmologist can see retinal defects, which may indicate diabetes, high blood pressure, or AIDS. Sometimes, cholesterol from arterial plaques caused by atherosclerosis may break away and travel to the eye, where they can be easily seen by your doctor during an exam. With a thorough eye exam, your doctor will also be able to see any optic nerve abnormalities, which may be early signs of such serious conditions as MS, brain tumors, or aneurysm.
Just as eye exams can pinpoint a number of health conditions, dental exams can also provide early warning signs of serious medical issues. Research indicates that more than 90 percent of all systematic diseases have at least some oral manifestations.
Steven Offenbacher, DDS, PhD, chair of the department of periodontology and director of the Center for Oral and Systematic Diseases at the School of Dentistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, observes:
“Dentists and periodontists are concerned about more than saving your teeth – they're looking at how oral health fits into your overall well-being.”
What are some specific health conditions that can be discovered during a dental exam? Here’s a short list:
- Diabetes: Frequent gum abscesses, chronic bad breath, swelling, bone loss, and bleeding gums can all be signs of diabetes.
- Oral cancer: Often, the first sign of this type of cancer is a small red or white spot or sore in the mouth that may occur long before other symptoms develop.
- Heart disease: Inflammation in your mouth may be a sign of inflammation in other parts of your body. Researchers are finding increasing evidence that uncontrolled inflammation is linked with heart disease. Additionally, a sore or painful jaw may be a sign of an impending heart attack.
- Dangerous stress levels: Worn down tooth enamel or bone loss from teeth-grinding or jaw clenching might be a sign of excessive stress. Stress leads to a plethora of health problems, some of which can be life-threatening if left unchecked.
- GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease): Acid reflux may cause the enamel of the backsides of your teeth to wear down over time, even before you experience any heartburn. Your dentist can often diagnose digestive problems before they escalate.
Early Detection Is Key
While there may be benign reasons for the symptoms mentioned here, it is also possible that they’re early warning signs of more serious illness. For many of the diseases that can be detected with an eye or dental exam, early detection provides the best chance of a good outcome. That is why it is important to take advantage of employer-provided vision and dental benefits with routine exams. They could save your life.
For more information about employer-sponsored health coverage, please contact us. With years of experience in the field of benefits consulting, we can partner with you to craft a benefit package that will provide the best possible care for your employees