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Routine dental check-ups

At a routine dental check-up, the dentist is forming a diagnosis of your health in relation to the head and neck (extra-oral), all the areas inside your mouth (intra-oral), your lymph nodes, soft tissues, Temporomandibular joint, facial and chewing muscles and any exposed skin or soft tissue abnormalities.

This is all in addition to checking the condition of your gums, the health of your tooth structure, looking for decay and worn or leaking restorations.

Cancer can occur in any part of the mouth, on the tongue, lips and throat. Sadly, mouth cancer has a very high mortality rate due to late detection. The positive news is that a ‘precancer’ will sometimes form a long time before cancer develops, and if detected early, it can be treated rapidly with an excellent chance of prevention or cure.

Some of the early symptoms of mouth cancer include:

  • An ulcer or a sore throat that has persisted longer than three weeks

  • A white or red patch on the soft tissue, gums, tongue or lining in the mouth

  • A chronic sore throat or hoarse voice that persists for longer than six weeks

  • Difficulty in swallowing or a constant feeling that something is caught in the throat

  • A neck swelling that persists longer than three weeks

  • Numbness of the tongue or other area of the mouth

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a list of some of the more common symptoms.

Why do I have to give a medical history when I attend the dentist?

The dentist needs to check the health of your head and neck and inside of your mouth and assess your overall health. This includes your past and current medical history, any allergies or chronic medical conditions and any medication you might be taking.

Letting the dentist know what medication you are on is vital as some medications affect the treatment that the dentist prescribes. For example, some medications cause your glands to produce less saliva causing “dry-mouth”. This can increase the risk of decay for some people as the plaque is more likely to dry on the teeth rather than be washed away by saliva. The dentist and hygienist can advise ways to reduce such risks, and a complete medical history can help them to assist you.

Discussing your past and present medical history will also allow the dentist to recognise when the need exists to work in consultation with other health care professionals such as your G.P. or specialist. Any information is treated as strictly confidential by all members of the team.

Will I need to have x-rays taken?

The need for X-rays will depend on when you last had dental radiographs taken and the dentist’s assessment of your mouth and teeth.

The introduction of digital radiographs and photographs reduces the patient exposure to radiation that traditional dental film requires and enables the dentist to enlarge and view images on an LCD screen, increasing his diagnostic capabilities. Not to mention the speed at which these images can be transferred to dental and medical colleagues anywhere in the world via e-mail. Intra-oral cameras work in much the same way, transmitting an image directly to the computer, which allows the dentist to show patients any areas of concern in their mouth.

The approach to dentistry today is a conservative one and saving teeth is of primary concern. Detection of decay has been made easier by the use of a small, non-invasive laser.

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