Benefits of Dental Checkups in Gum Disease Oral Cancer Prevention

Gum disease and oral cancer are two common diseases which affect millions of people worldwide. Almost 30% of Australian adults have gum disease, an easily preventable condition, and there are around 2500 cases of oral cancer registered in Australia every year. Both these diseases can have far-reaching consequences on oral and overall health. In this article, we will dig deeper into gum disease and oral cancer, discussing causes, prevention strategies and treatment to create awareness and help educate you to protect yourself better. Let’s get started.

Gum Disease: Causes, Symptoms & Risk Factors 

Gum or periodontal disease is caused by the accumulation of plaque—a sticky film of bacteria—on the teeth and gums. When plaque isn’t adequately removed through regular brushing and flossing, it can lead to inflammation of the gums, known as gingivitis, which is the initial stage of gum disease. Gingivitis is often reversible with proper oral hygiene practices and professional dental cleanings.

If left untreated, gingivitis can progress to more advanced stages of gum disease (periodontitis). It can extend beneath the gumline, forming pockets between the teeth and gums. The body’s immune response to the infection, combined with the toxins produced by the bacteria, starts to break down the bone and connective tissue supporting the teeth. This deterioration can ultimately result in tooth loss and severe oral health complications down the road.

Symptoms of Gum Disease

During the initial stages, gum disease has only mild symptoms such as chronic bad breath or bleeding gums. However, it can show visible signs like gum recession once it progresses. 

Some signs of gum disease include:

  • Persistent bad breath, even with regular oral hygiene.
  • Red, swollen, or tender gums.
  • Bleeding gums, especially during brushing or flossing.
  • Receding gums, making teeth appear longer.
  • Changes in the way teeth fit together or tooth mobility.
  • Pockets forming between teeth and gums.
  • Formation of abscesses or pus between teeth and gums.

Gum disease can easily be treated at the initial stage, but once it progresses, the damage is irreversible and becomes more difficult to treat. The damage caused by the disease must be repaired and controlled through treatments to retain the healthy gum and tooth structure you have left. 

Risk Factors 

Some of the factors that increase the risk of gum disease include:

  • Inadequate brushing and flossing can lead to plaque buildup, a sticky film of bacteria, on the teeth and along the gumline. When the bacteria lingers on your teeth or penetrates the gumline, it can lead to gum disease.
  • Smoking or tobacco weakens the immune system and reduces blood flow to the gums, making it harder for the body to fight off gum infections and increasing the risk of gum disease.
  • People with a family history of gum disease.  These people are more genetically susceptible to developing gum disease and need to be checked and monitored more carefully.
  • People with a weakened immune system, either due to genetics, hormonal imbalances or pregnancy, have a higher risk of developing gum disease.
  • A diet high in sugar and carbohydrates can contribute to plaque buildup and increase the risk of gum disease. Additionally, deficiencies in essential nutrients like vitamins C and D can weaken gum health.
  • Chronic stress can weaken the immune system and increase inflammation in the body, including the gums, making individuals more susceptible to gum disease.
  • Some medications can affect gum health by causing gum overgrowth or reducing saliva flow.

Impact of Gum Disease on Your Health

Gum disease, or periodontal disease, doesn’t just affect your mouth; it can also impact your overall health. Research has shown links between gum disease and various systemic conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory infections, pregnancy complications, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, kidney disease, and certain cancers. The bacteria and inflammation associated with gum disease can contribute to inflammation and damage throughout the body, potentially increasing the risk of developing these systemic health issues.

Oral Cancer: Causes, Symptoms & Risk Factors 

Oral cancer develops in the mouth or throat tissues, including the lips, tongue, gums, floor of the mouth, roof of the mouth (palate), and tonsils. It usually begins as a small, painless lesion or sore in the mouth that does not heal. Oral cancer can affect various structures in the mouth, including the lips, tongue, gums, inner lining of the cheeks, roof of the mouth, and throat. If not detected and treated early, oral cancer can be life-threatening.

Signs of Oral Cancer 

Like gum disease, oral cancer can go undetected in the initial stages. That’s why it’s crucial to check for signs of oral cancer, as early detection and treatment significantly increase the chances of cure. 

Some signs of oral cancer include:

  • Persistent mouth sore that does not heal within two weeks.
  • Abnormal patches of red or white tissue in the mouth or lips.
  • A lump, thickening, or rough spot in the mouth, throat, or neck.
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, or moving the tongue or jaw.
  • Swollen lymph nodes or glands under the jaw or the neck.
  • A sore throat that does not go away. 
  • Persistent pain, tenderness, or numbness in the mouth, throat, or neck.
  • Changes in the way the teeth fit together or the jaw’s alignment.
  • Unexplained pain in one ear without signs of infection.

Risk Factors 

Factors contributing to an increased risk of oral cancer include:

  • Smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes, or using smokeless tobacco (such as chewing tobacco or snuff). Around 59% of mouth cancers in Australia are caused by smoking. 
  • Heavy alcohol consumption, especially when combined with tobacco use. Almost 31% of mouth cancers in Australia are caused by excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Certain viral infections, such as strains of human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • Men are at a higher risk of developing oral cancer than women.
  • Neglecting oral hygiene practices, such as regular brushing and interdental cleaning.
  • Having a family history of oral cancer 
  • Conditions or medications that weaken the immune system

Impact of Oral Cancer on Your Health

Oral cancer is a fatal disease with only a 50% survival rate over 5 years. Various factors can cause it, and it often goes undetected because the symptoms are painless unless it is advanced. Once cancer progresses, treatment is extensive and requires mouth reconstruction and rehabilitation to restore dental function and appearance. 

Benefits of Dental Checkups for Gum Disease and Oral Cancer Prevention

The importance of early detection and timely intervention cannot be emphasised enough when it comes to gum disease and oral cancer. Both are progressive diseases with no cure that cause extensive damage as they advance. Dental checkups form the first line of defence after preventive care for chronic diseases. 

Here’s how dental checkups help prevent and manage gum disease and oral cancer:

Early Detection

Dentists recommend half-yearly checkups to keep your dental health in check and detect potential oral problems before they progress. These checkups involve a thorough examination of the mouth, gums, and oral tissues for signs of gum disease, oral cancer, and other oral health issues. If there’s plaque or tartar buildup on your teeth or below the gumline, a dental cleaning or root planing can help remove the accumulated bacteria, preventing the onset of gum disease. 

Oral Cancer Screening

All our dentists are trained to do a visual oral cancer check at every check up.  That means, just coming to the dentist for regular check ups will reduce your chances of having a late stage lesion that’s not picked up.  If a suspicious lesion is detected, they can perform a biopsy to check for malignancy and the spread of cancer. Additional tests may include X-rays, CT scans, and ultrasounds. The chances of survival and successful treatment are the highest when oral cancer is detected early. It’s advisable to get your oral cancer screenings done with your regular dental checkups if you are above 40, a smoker or have a family history of cancer. 

Patient Education & Awareness 

Dental checkups are not just an oral examination. It allows dentists, especially those familiar with your dental and medical history, to detect changes in your mouth. They ask questions, investigating the reason behind those changes to identify what you are doing wrong, if you are using any new product, or if stress is causing those changes. This ensures you get prompt counselling and intervention, preventing further damage to your oral health. Your dentist can also inform you about the signs of gum disease, oral cancer or common dental conditions so you can routinely self-check at home. All these preventive measures can allow for early detection, which is key to preventing and managing chronic mouth conditions. 

Treatment Planning

If gum disease or oral cancer is detected during a dental checkup, your dentist can develop a personalised treatment plan tailored to your needs. Treatment may include professional periodontal therapy for gum disease, referrals for further evaluation or biopsy for suspicious lesions, and ongoing monitoring and follow-up care. 

Protect Yourself from Oral Diseases with Preventive Care!

Proactive oral health management can make the difference between saving your teeth and increasing the chances of cure. At Whitehorse Dental, we’re here to help make dental care easy! We offer comprehensive gum assessment and oral cancer screenings to help detect potential oral diseases early. Our preventive care includes the latest dental cleaning with Airflow therapy, a non-contact, whole mouth clean for inaccessible areas and deep periodontal pockets to protect against gum disease. We also perform professional dental cleaning to remove plaque and tartar with regular dental checkups. With tailored plans that ensure your treatment is performed according to your risk level and the condition of your teeth and gums, we aim to improve your oral health and move towards a healthier smile and lifestyle. If you haven’t had your dental checkup or oral cancer screening done recently, book an appointment with us for personalised guidance and preventive care.