ROUTINE dental check-ups are something that most people have on a regular basis.

It is the way that dentists check for any tooth decay and gum disease, monitor the deterioration or improvement of any condition and plan future treatment.

However, during dental check-up dentists will also perform a general oral health examination that could identify the early signs of other medical conditions such as sleep apnoea, heart disease and even oral cancer.

It is a way of monitoring some general health conditions. For example, it is important for patients suffering from diabetes to regulate and control their blood sugar level or they are at a higher risk of developing gum disease with the bone and gums surrounding the teeth deteriorating.

A thorough dental check-up can identify whether the patient’s gums are healthy or not and may alert the dentist to investigate further, working closely with medical teams to establish whether a patients has undiagnosed diabetes. The same is true for other illnesses such as leukaemia or infectious conditions like AIDS

As one local dentist, Dr Pawel Sobocinski from the Synergy Dental Clinics’ group which has surgeries in Bolton and Bury, the usual dental check-up is quite comprehensive. “It not only involves teeth, gums, under the tongue and inside cheeks,” he explained, “but I also palpate under the lower jaw to check for enlarged or painful lymph nodes which might indicate infection.”

For one of his local patients, h.owever, the dental check-up picked up on a symptom that could have had life-threatening results.

Mrs Ann Earnshaw, aged 65, had her usual dental check-up with Dr Sobocinski in September last year. “Everything was in order but, while examining my neck, he spotted a growth on it,” she explained.

“It had been there for some time but no-one ever suggested I should have it checked. Pawel explained to me that, since it wasn’t a birthmark and it looked somewhat irregular - didn’t have smooth margins and wasn’t uni-colour - I should consult my GP and have him examine it as soon as possible.”

Ann had an appointment with her GP a few days later and he referred her to Salford Royal Hospital. On October 3, she was examined by a specialist and a week later she had surgery to remove the growth which turned out to be a Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) - the most common form of skin cancer.

“It’s not difficult to treat but needs to be caught early,” added Ann. “I am glad I found a professional and thoughtful dentist. I will have to take a much closer look at my skin from now on and will mention any changes on it to my GP as soon as I notice them.”

Dr Sobocinski said: "It just looked wrong and I felt that she needed to go to her GP to get it checked out.”

He carries out dental check-ups regularly on scores of patients but in a 15-year career has only seen potential cancer cases three times. “I think the experience of dentists is very helpful in this area,” he said.

Synergy Clinical Director Dr Zuber Bagasi had a similar experience with a patient who had implant surgery. All had gone well but at one of her after-care appointments, Dr Bagasi noticed an abnormality in her mouth.

He referred her immediately to a hospital specialist colleague and she was seen within 24 hours.

“My world dropped when the diagnosis was made of a type of mouth cancer which was very aggressive with a high mortality rate,” she stated.

Treatment, however to remove the cancer was successful and the specialist told her that if the lesion had not been spotted early by Dr Bagasi and she had not been referred straight away, it could have been fatal.

As Dr Bagasi explained: “Often one of the most important “silent” conditions that can occur for some time without being noticed is oral cancer.

“It can develop and be painless without patients knowing about it. Its presentation is not just a lump in the mouth but there can be other presentations such as a small white patch or irregular contouring of the soft tissue and can often only be visible in areas that are difficult to see by looking in a mirror yourself at home.

“Even if you have very few or no teeth, it’s very important that you visit your dentist regularly to identify early onset of this condition.

“There is also a reverse link between oral health and general wellbeing,” he added. “Although genetics can play a big role in some medical conditions, a poor diet, lack of exercise and poor gum health can be contributing factors in some heart conditions."