We listen to our body when it is hurting or giving us problems. But what if that hurt and pain was an indication of a more serious issue located somewhere completely different in our body?

Are we listening to what that pain could be indicating?

Our smiles are more than the shape, color and alignment of our teeth. They too are signifiers of health concerns, providing warning signs that we must pay attention to.  A smile indicates much more than a person’s emotional state. It offers a window into the overall health and wellbeing of an individual. Teeth grinding, gum inflammation, gum paleness, bad breath and gapped teeth may be an indicator of a more serious illness.

Could your smile be warning you of an underlying health issue? Next time you look in the mirror, take a longer pause and evaluate your teeth through more than an aesthetic lens.

Teeth grinding: A sign of stress

Stress levels matter and impact total health — that’s not a surprise or the first time you’ve heard the warning to reduce your stress. But are noticing the impact stress is having on your teeth? More often than not, individuals relive their day while sleeping. Pair that with stress and high volumes of caffeine consumption, and you have the perfect recipe for teeth grinding.

While stress plays a significant part in teeth grinding, it’s not always the cause. For some, there are neurological causes that trigger teeth grinding. Our nervous system naturally works to tell the brain when to stop biting down, but sometimes during sleep our brain loses the the ability to communicate and send off the warning sign that our teeth are biting down on each other. The inability to alert our teeth to stop biting down can result in bruxism – the grinding, gnashing or clenching of teeth – and ultimately cause major damage, such as broken teeth.

Pale and inflamed gums A sign of blood related diseases

Most people spend time looking at the color of their teeth, desiring a whiter smile, but how much time do you spend evaluating the color of your gums?

The surface area of a chronic gum infection is approximately the size of the palm of your hand, and pale gums are often an indicator of an infection. The same blood that flows through the gums also supplies nutrients and oxygen to other vital organs of the body. If we had infections like the ones that cause gum inflammation in other areas of the body we would seek immediate medical attention.

Listening to our gums could alert us to issues concerning vital organs like the liver, lungs, brain or heart.

Bad breath: A sign of nose, mouth or gut problems

Chewing more gum or eating less garlic is not the solution to alleviate bad breath.

There are three underlying causes of chronic bad breath: nose, mouth and gut. Any one of the three or all three combined can cause bad breath. Post nasal drip, chronic sinus infections, untreated dental infections, tooth decay, chronic acid reflux or general stomach issues can all contribute to bad breath.

The solution to chronic bad breath is addressing the root of the problem — fixing something topically in your mouth will not resolve bad breath if the cause lies in your gut. If you fix one cause and still have bad breath, keep looking and consult with a provider until you find the source of your bad breath.

Gap teeth: A sign of breathing problems.

What might seem like a simple growth imperfection could be a sign of a more serious breathing problem.

People suffering from sleep apnea or difficulty breathing will oftentimes sleep with their mouth open. As a result of sleeping with your mouth open, the arch narrows pushing the tongue forward, causing the tongue to press against the front teeth. That pressure eventually causes the front teeth to protrude over the bottom teeth. This creates a malocclusion, or imperfect alignment of the jaw, that prevents the front teeth from touching when biting down.

Your smile is a signifier of your overall health. Are you listening?

If you noticed one of these characteristics in your own smile, it’s time to evaluate the underlying issues it may be connected to. Listening to our bodies – in this case our smile – can be the difference between a minor infection and a life-threatening illness.