The Real Reason Doctors Look In Your Mouth

Different parts of your body can serve as unique windows into aspects of your health by providing early warning signals of more serious underlying issues. Looking inside your mouth is one of the ways your health practitioner can uncover certain infections, growths, or other warning signs of health issues that might require further examination or testing (via University of Rochester Medical Center).

According to the American Cancer Society, while there are no standardized screenings or tests for a routine oral exam, your doctor will typically look in your mouth during a check-up to determine, for example, if there are any possible precancerous or cancerous growths. Getting regular dental check-ups that include oral exams are also considered an effective way to catch potential oral cancers early. Some health providers even advise that you perform your own oral self-exam on a monthly basis and look out for any abnormalities such as white patches, sores, or lumps. This is especially critical if you are a smoker or someone who consumes alcohol regularly, as these practices put you at a higher risk for oral cancers.

One of the serious diseases that your doctor or dentist could potentially uncover is oropharyngeal cancer. Cleveland Clinic defines oropharyngeal cancer as cancer that arises in the oropharynx — the middle part of the throat — and can include symptoms such as a sore throat, a persistent lump, coughing up blood, white patches, and other symptoms.

Other issues the inside of your mouth can reveal

According to Rush University, your mouth can also reveal many other types of underlying health conditions. "Your oral health can't be separated from your overall health," says Ankitaben Han, a family medicine physician. For instance, as a result of an oral examination, your doctor may discover that you have oral thrush, also called candidiasis. Oral thrush, which is a type of yeast infection, can appear as white patches on the tongue. It is relatively uncommon in healthy adults, but is known to appear frequently in babies, and in adults with certain risk factors such as diabetes, cancer, or HIV/AIDS.

While pain in your mouth or jaw could be a sign of tooth decay or other dental problems, this could also be a red flag for more serious health issues. One of these possible issues could be heart disease, as one of the symptoms of heart disease can be pain in the lower left jaw. Frequent dry mouth can also be an indication of underlying problems such as diabetes, Parkinson's disease, or various immune disorders.

Medical experts at Rush University advise that, in addition to seeing your health practitioners for routine exams, you take certain preventive and proactive steps in support of your oral health by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and, if you are a smoker, quitting the habit.