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Not just decay: Dentists detect kids underlying health conditions

Dental practitioners are identifying more than just tooth decay in the mouths of young Queenslanders, including underlying health conditions such as difficulty breathing and factors that contribute to speech problems.

Queensland Health Chief Dental Officer Dr Mark Brown said dental practitioners played an important role in the early detection of many health conditions in childhood which affect both oral health and general health.

“What some parents don’t realise is that during a routine dental examination, a dental practitioner is not only checking a child’s mouth for tooth decay and cavities, but they are also checking their soft tissue for issues that can point to other health concerns,” Dr Brown said.

“They will examine their gums, the roof of their mouth, insides of their cheeks, lips, underneath their tongue and the back of their throat – which can give away a lot of clues to their overall health.

“They can identify issues such as enlarged tonsils or difficulty breathing through the nose, which may indicate obstructed breathing, linked with snoring or sleep apnoea.

“They can also identify recurrent ulcers, which may be caused by an underlying immune or nutritional deficiency; and can identify developmental problems and low muscle tone which contribute to current or future problems with speech.

“If it is suspected that a child may have one of these conditions, the dental practitioner will discuss these with the parent and then refer them to the most appropriate health professional for further assessment and management.”

Dr Brown said regular oral examinations were essential to detect issues early and to ensure children maintained good oral health.

“Parents should organise a check-up for their kids once their teeth start to come through and then regularly after that – some children may need more frequent examinations and professional preventive care depending on their individual risk of decay.”

Paediatric Dental Specialist Dr Karthika Balaji said the management of dental anomalies in children required a team approach.

“In specialist practice I would see an anomaly, like an ulcer, on a daily basis that either requires active management or immediate referral to the child’s medical practitioner or to another dental specialist,” Dr Balaji said.

“The mouth is the mirror of the body, and oral conditions can draw attention to underlying medical conditions that may be first identified by a dental practitioner.”


Media contact: +61 7 3708 5376

Last updated: 20 March 2018