Oral Health Month: Dental Check-Ups Become Even More Crucial with Age

Photo: Pietro Jeng from Pexels

April is Oral Health Month so we asked Dr. Euan Swan, manager of dental programs at the Canadian Dental Association, what to watch out for as we age.

He says of most concern is periodontal disease. Plaque buildup around the teeth and gums causes inflammation. Left untreated, chronic inflammation of the gums can destroy bones that support the teeth leading to tooth loss. It’s also linked to serious health conditions including diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

One of the ways dentists screen for gum disease is by measuring the pocket depth of the gum around each tooth for recession – anything more than three millimetres is of concern and requires monitoring. And “getting long in the tooth” isn’t the only thing on your dentist’s radar.

Oral cancer, too, is more prevalent after 45. Risk increases with tobacco use and alcohol consumption – the latter can actually make the lining of the mouth more permeable to toxins like those in tobacco products.

Symptoms are often uncommon in the early stage of oral cancers, notes Swan. Screening should be a part of every checkup he says.

Dr. Zunaid Jamal of Arch Dental in Toronto starts every visit with an exam of the head, jaw and neck.

“We check outside as well as inside the mouth to be thorough and, because some lesions are only palpated (felt) by examining the face and neck,” he explains.

And when it comes to lesions or patches, location and colour matter. High risk sites include the side and underside of the tongue, floor of the mouth and back of the mouth (top of the throat).

Red lesions with no obvious cause such as a bite or a burn carry the highest risk for premalignance while white patches that cannot be wiped off easily may require further testing.

Do a daily diagnostic with an “open wide” look in the mirror, says Swan, noting anything new or unusual.