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Comprehensive Dental Exam

Aging affects the teeth and mouth in several ways: Saliva, a natural dental protectant, becomes less abundant, allowing cavity-causing bacteria to thrive. Pearly white teeth lose their sheen, sometimes taking on a dingy gray hue. Old fillings sometimes break. But the most worrisome age-related dental problem is periodontal, or gum disease — a major reason 30 percent of people over 65 lose all of their teeth. To detect periodontal disease before it does serious damage, you need regular dental care.

Who needs it

The Academy of General Dentistry recommends twice yearly checkups for people of all ages, but only about half of us actually go that often.

How it’s done

The dentist does a visual exam of your mouth, looking not just for cracked and decayed teeth, but also for growths and sores on the tongue, palate, and mucous membrane that lines the cheeks and covers the gums. Some dentists now use intra-oral cameras, tiny video cameras placed inside the mouth to project greatly enlarged images on color monitors. Dental X rays, however, are still necessary to detect hidden problems, particularly below the gums. The scheduling of X-ray exams is individualized for each patient. Your dentist may also use a pointed probe to measure the depth of your gum pockets. This quick exam can help determine whether you’re beginning to show any signs of gum disease.

What the results mean

If your dentist finds cavities, cracked teeth, or broken fillings, he’ll determine the best option for repair (filling, crown, root canal, extraction). He will recommend careful flossing and regular use of an antiseptic mouthwash and may refer you to a periodontist or oral surgeon if you have severe or rapidly advancing gum disease.

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