Periodontal exams are vital in the maintenance of your oral health as they are used to assess the health of your gums and teeth. They can help your dentist diagnose gum diseases, gingivitis and periodontitis. These exams can also reveal receding gums, exposed roots, tooth grinding and other problems, making periodontal exams vital to maintaining proper oral health. Regular dental exams are important as they can reveal evidence of gum disease in its early stages.
During your periodontal examination, your dentist will check:
- For any lumps or abnormal areas in the mouth
- Whether any of your teeth are missing or loose
- The color, texture, size and shape of your gums
- Whether you have fillings, crowns, bridges, dentures or implants
- How much plaque is on your teeth
- The depth of the space between your tooth and gum
Gingivitis is the first stage of periodontal disease that causes inflammation of the gums. Dental x-rays can determine if the inflammation has spread to the supporting structures on the teeth so treatment can be started to correct the problem. Periodontitis occurs when gingivitis goes untreated, which makes periodontal exams vital to preventing and putting an end to gum diseases.
Your dentist will complete a periodontal exam with each visit, emphasizing the importance of regular, routine visits to your dentist's office.
Scaling and Root Planing
Some cases of acute periodontal (gum) disease that do not respond to more conventional treatment and self-care such as flossing may require a special kind of cleaning called scaling and root planing. The procedure begins with administration of a local anesthetic to reduce any discomfort. Then, a small instrument called a "scaler," or an ultrasonic cleaner, is used to clean beneath your gum line to remove plaque and tartar. The root surfaces on the tooth are then planed and smoothed. If effective, scaling and root planing helps the gums reattach themselves to the tooth structure. Additional measures may be needed if the periodontal pockets persist after scaling and root planing.
Oral Cancer Screenings
Oral cancer is one of the most common cancers today and has one of the lowest survival rates, with thousands of new cases being reported each year. Fewer than half of all people diagnosed with oral cancer are ever cured. Moreover, people with many forms of cancer can develop complications—some of them chronic and painful—from their cancer treatment. These include dry mouth and overly sensitive teeth, as well as accelerated tooth decay. If oral cancer is not treated in time, it could spread to other facial and neck tissues, leading to disfigurement and pain. Older adults over the age of 40 (especially men) are most susceptible to developing oral cancer, but people of all ages are at risk. Oral cancer can occur anywhere in the mouth, but the tongue appears to be the most common location. Other oral structures could include the lips, gums and other soft palate tissues in the mouth.
In general, early signs of oral cancer usually occur in the form of lumps, patchy areas and lesions, or breaks, in the tissues of the mouth. In many cases, these abnormalities are not painful in the early stages, making even self-diagnosis difficult. Here are some additional warning signs:
- Hoarseness or difficulty swallowing.
- Unusual bleeding or persistent sores in the mouth that won't heal.
- Lumps or growths in other nearby areas, such as the throat or neck.
If a tumor is found, surgery will generally be required to remove it. Some facial disfigurement could also result.
Prevention is the key to staving off oral cancer. One of the biggest culprits is tobacco and alcohol use. Certain kinds of foods and even overexposure to the sun have also been linked to oral cancer. Some experts believe certain oral cancer risk factors are also hereditary. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is one of the best defenses against oral cancer. Maintaining good oral hygiene, and regular dental checkups, are highly recommended.
The pits and grooves of your teeth are prime areas for opportunistic decay. Even regular brushing sometimes misses some of these intricate structures on the chewing surfaces of your teeth.
Enter sealants, which are thin coatings applied to the chewing surfaces designed to prevent the intrusion of bacteria and other debris into the deep crevices on the tops of your teeth. Sealants actually were developed about 50 years ago, but didn't become commonly used until the 1970s. Today, sealants are becoming widely popular and effective; young children are great candidates for preventative measures like sealants because in many cases, decay has not set in. Even on teeth where decay is present, sealants have been shown to fight additional damage. Sealants are applied by first cleaning the tooth surface. The procedure is followed by etching the tooth with an abrasive substance, which allows the sealant to better adhere. After the sealant is applied, a warm light source is directed to the site to promote faster drying. Sealants usually need re-application every five to 10 years.