| 4 min read | by Doug Marrin, |

In my thinking, dentistry is about filling cavities, being told to floss, getting a cap or even an implant. But in conversation with my own dentist, Roy Margenau DDS in Dexter, I’m learning that the profession is much more than its public perception. Dentists in many ways are the front lines of health care and it is fascinating.

Wanting to learn more and thinking it would make a great article, I sat down with Dr. Margenau to hear more about what I call “The Secret Super-Hero Life of Dentists.”

Doug: “So, Doc, tell me more about how the mouth is connected to the health of the rest of the body.”


Dr. Margenau: “Oftentimes, there may be times that as a dentist that we see something that a general practitioner might not see without doing blood tests or something else like that. Most family doctors may look in your mouth to see if you have missing or broken teeth, but most really don’t see much in the mouth. They don’t study that. So as dentists, we specialize, not just in teeth, but the mouth and the neck, area of the body.

“Oftentimes with the neck, we may notice lumps or bumps under the jaw or on the sides of the neck or something that correlates to what’s going on in the mouth or correlate to some sort of systemic disease. There are a lot of different things that that we can see.”

Doug: “I know at the end of a routine cleaning you look around my tongue for signs of cancer.”

Roy Margenau DDS

Dr. Margenau: “There are quite a few different oral diseases and conditions that we look for. As you mentioned, cancer is just one of them. That’s probably the big one that everybody is concerned about. I’m looking for signs of oral cancer, or other oral lesions, there are other types of diseases that manifest themselves in the mouth. One that we can oftentimes see is diabetes. We can see the effects of diabetes in the mouth, on the gums and, and tongue and other soft tissues in the mouth.

“It can be anywhere from certain types of swelling to just some vague discoloration. If we see that, it’ll give us a clue that there’s something else going on here. We’ll refer them to an oral surgeon specifically trained in oral manifestations of diseases or oral diseases, like certain types of cancer and things like that. The surgeon can determine if its cancer, diabetes, something else, or usually it is nothing at all, just a minor variation of some sort.”

Doug: “So, you and your profession are really on the forefront of physical health being in a position to see what’s happening inside the body with the vulnerable soft tissue of the mouth, the early indicators of disease?”

Dr. Margenau: “Yes, there are all kinds of different infections that you can find in the mouth. Some of them may be fungal, and others could be bacterial or cancerous. We see a lot of changes for people who use tobacco products, smokers and particularly people who use spit tobacco. We may be the very first ones to see changes in gums that are either precancerous or cancerous.

“About a year ago, we had a patient come in and he was complaining a little bit of sensitivity on the side of his tongue. It was maybe a little bit whitish looking, but it didn’t look like anything serious. It looked kind of just irritated. But because he said it had been there for several months and had not been getting better, we sent him to the oral surgeon. They did a small surgical biopsy, and it turned out to be very incredibly early stages of an aggressive type of cancer. The patient never smoked in his life, never used any tobacco products in his life. Fortunately for him, it was early enough that all they had to do was surgically remove it. He didn’t have to have any chemotherapy or radiation or anything.”

Doug: “Because the key in cancer is early detection.’

Dr. Margenau: “Absolutely. And there are certain types of cancers that are much more aggressive than others. And we often find them in certain places in it in the mouth. And along the side of the tongue is one of the places that we often find more aggressive cancers.”

Doug: “I remember you once mentioned a connection between the mouth and heart health. Could you explain that?”

Dr. Margenau: “There are a lot of diseases or infections. For example, abscesses that are related to teeth, if they’re not taken care of the bacteria from there seem to get in the bloodstream. The first place they seem to go is to the heart, specifically to the heart valves. There are a lot of patients who have conditions with heart murmurs that have to have pre-medication antibiotics before they have dental treatment because of this very close relationship. Anytime the patient gets bacteria in the bloodstream, from us cleaning the teeth or from very poor home care where the gums are inflamed and there’s gum disease, bacteria can get in the bloodstream and go down and cause severe heart problems. It can cause death. That’s why we’re concerned about infections.”

Doug: “I remember when you bought this practice. How long have you been a  dentist?”

Dr. Margenau: “It’s been thirty-four years. I bought the practice from Barbara Elliot in 1990. I was an associate in a larger practice for five years before that.”

Doug: “Dentists often get an unfair bad rap. What made you want to become a dentist?”

Dr. Margenau: “That’s a hard question. I’ve always wanted to be a dentist for as long as I can remember. Somebody asked me in kindergarten what I wanted to be. I said I wanted to be a dentist. But for me, I think it’s kind of twofold. Number one, I really like working with my hands. I’ve always enjoyed that, but I think the greatest joy is actually patients – being with people and seeing patients who come back and ask, ‘How was your summer? How was your trip up to Colorado?’ Tell me about it.’ Seeing patients come back. Patients really are like family.”

Doug: “Speaking of superpowers, you have been painless since day one for me, long before it became a marketing tool for dentists.”

Dr. Margenau: “You know, there are so many techniques that you can do to be gentle, and to be painless. It doesn’t help anybody to just rush in and cause pain or discomfort. I’d like to be the opposite and alleviate pain and discomfort for patients and prevent it. Part of it is just taking your time. We don’t rush here. We don’t have time quotas. I’d rather have way too much time schedule than not to have enough time. You have probably noticed too, over the years, it’s pretty rare that you wait when you come in.”

Doug: “Any last words about dentistry?”

Dr. Margenau: “Oh goodness, I could talk for hours. It’s a fun topic for me because it’s so exciting with new techniques and the way things are changing and new technology that’s coming out. But the biggest thing is you should find a dentist that you’re comfortable with and go regularly.”

There you have it: the secret super-hero life of dentists. Going to the dentist is about so much more than getting the crud out from between your teeth. It is a step towards better health for your entire body and avoiding major problems down the road. And as the body goes so goes life.