I believe there is a very important part of the mouth that is often forgotten in dentistry. We always check the teeth, the gingival and mucosa, behind the tongue, but how often does someone really look at a person’s lips?
A patient’s lips can be a window into their attitude, dental health and even systemic wellness. I recently came across an article entitled “What lips say about your health” by Lucy Elkins at DailyMail.com. The article discusses certain conditions that dentists identify and possibly even treat. When a patient sits in your dental chair, perform a thorough medical and dental evaluation but also look for more subtle clues. For example, cracked lips could indicate diabetes or anemia. Chapped or red lips could be signs of an allergy. Crohn’s disease is a possibility if the patient has overly swollen lips. There are many signs to look for and dental professionals should always be observant for the benefit of the patient.
Dental related diseases that may be apparent outside the mouth include burning mouth syndrome, Herpes cold sores and cleft lip. You may need to ask your patient other questions such as: “Have you noticed any changes in your mouth or lips?” or “Do you sense an altered taste or xerostomia?” to get a better idea of what is going on. If you are unsure of how to proceed, you should obtain a medical consult.
Not only do the lips indicate overall health but they are also an important part of the treatment planning process. Are they thin or thick? How high is the smile line? Do they line up with the midline? How much of the buccal corridor can be seen when the patient smiles? The attentive dentist will ask many questions and include this information in their overall plan. The lips can be an essential element in an esthetics case or even a denture case when phonetics are concerned.
Next time you treat a patient, try to remember the features of the face that play a role in your treatment. The lips, facial muscles and cheeks can considerably affect the success of your dental care and the patient’s happiness. You might also be able to change someone’s life by diagnosing a disease that manifests on the lips. Something that seems insignificant may be giving you a clue to your patient’s health and well-being!
-Laura Nelson, Houston ’16, chair, Council on Communications