Have you ever wondered why your dentist palpates the sides of your neck before an examination or treatment? When dentists do this, they are checking for signs of thyroid conditions, including diseases and cancer. In fact, thyroid conditions are one of many medical conditions that dentists are the first to suspect in their patients.

While thyroid conditions can affect the teeth and gums, there are other reasons for the dentist to check your thyroid, and they are called comorbid conditions. Comorbid conditions, which are conditions that are caused or affected by a primary condition, can cause serious health implications to those with a thyroid disorder when they undergo dental treatment and surgery. Here's what you need to know. 

Dental problems related to thyroid conditions 

There are several specific dental problems that can be associated with thyroid conditions, including cavities, enlarged tongue, gum disease, dry mouth and burning mouth syndrome. If your dentist notices these types of problems in your oral cavity, combined with noticing an abnormal thyroid upon palpation, he or she should refer you to your doctor or an endocrinologist for a thyroid screening. 

What the thyroid is & what it does

The thyroid is a gland in your neck that is shaped like a butterfly. It secretes hormones that are used throughout your body to regulate development and growth. It's where your metabolism comes from, in simple terms. There are a number of diseases of the thyroid, including hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, goiter, thyroiditis, Graves disease, and thyroid cancer. 

Medical tests to diagnose thyroid conditions 

To check the condition of the thyroid, doctors need to check the levels of the hormones that are produced by the thyroid, as well as the condition of the thyroid. This is done through a series of blood tests. Sometimes, imaging tests such as ultrasounds, CT scans, and radioactive iodine uptake tests are also used to diagnose thyroid disorders. The results, along with a thorough medical examination and history, will help the doctor reach a diagnosis. 

Comorbid conditions related to the thyroid 

Since the hormones produced by the thyroid regulate everything in your body, you could have or develop comorbid conditions if you have a problem with your thyroid. Several comorbid conditions that are concerning to dentists includes cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus, and asthma. These types of comorbid conditions can make it difficult to provide dental treatment, especially oral surgery. 

As an example, when the thyroid is overactive (hyperthyroidism) the myocardium of the heart (which is the middle layer) can be sensitive to adrenaline. Some local anesthetics contain epinephrine, which can increase adrenaline. This can cause irregular heart beat, chest pain, and heart palpitations. 

Another example is when a patient has an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism); central nervous depressants that are used for surgical procedures can cause problems like hypothermia, low blood pressure, slow heart beat, and epileptic seizure. When all these problems are combined, the patient may go into a myxedema coma

Medical treatment for thyroid disorders & related comorbid conditions 

Fortunately, there are medications available for treatment of thyroid disorders and any comorbid conditions that are related. It is important to take the medication as prescribed to get control of your thyroid function. You'll need to have regular tests and screenings to determine where your hormone levels are and if your thyroid is under control. 

Dental treatments & surgeries are possible

It is possible to get dental treatments and oral surgeries if you have a thyroid condition and comorbidities, but only if they are under control. Before you undergo any dental procedure, it is strongly recommended that your dentist and endocrinologist speak with each other. That way, they can determine whether or not you are ready for the dental chair and if there are any possible drug interactions they need to be aware of.