Middle-age tests: Bones, teeth, eyes, ears & tetanus

September 07, 2000

Middle-age tests: Bones, teeth, eyes, ears & tetanus


Our bodies build bones until we are in our early 30s. Ten million Americans - 8 million women and 2 million men - have osteoporosis, or porous bones. The disease is characterized by low bone mass and structural deterioration of bone tissue. Bones become fragile and more susceptible to fractures.

Estrogen seems to protect bones, said Dr. Brian Bonham of Myersville Internal Medicine and Pediatrics in Myersville, Md.

He recommends a DEXA scan or bone density test for postmenopausal women and women who have a family history of osteoporosis. Other risks include being Caucasian, Asian, thin and small-framed, or taking medications for asthma, arthritis and thyroid.

Those older than 50 need more calcium than younger adults. American Dietetic Association recommends 1,200 milligrams per day.


How about those "pearly whites?"

Should you do something different about your teeth when they become middle-aged?

Washington County Health Department Dental Director Dr. Bob Johnson believes people of all ages should have a dental checkup at least twice a year. He recommends screening for oral cancer between ages 30 and 35. Oral cancer is curable because you can see it, Johnson said.


Tobacco use increases the risk of oral cancer. This includes smoke from cigarettes and cigars. Johnson said snuff - smokeless tobacco, which often includes chips of plastic and metal to provide a "bigger kick" - is the worst.

Johnson believes that new, fancy, high-tech toothbrushes are a lot of "baloney." He uses an extra-hard natural bristle toothbrush, and he doesn't recommend using tartar-control toothpaste, which can make teeth sensitive, he said.

Teeth are designed to last a lifetime - and they will, with proper care, according to Johnson. The key is keeping your teeth and mouth - including your tongue - clean with daily brushing. But brushing alone does not get the job done, Johnson said. Proper flossing every day is essential.

Tooth decay can't happen in a clean mouth, according to Johnson. Care of middle-aged teeth needs to begin long before middle age.


Bonham checks vision of his older patients at least every two years. He looks for cataracts, which can "sneak up on you," and glaucoma, which has no symptoms.


Bonham screens patients' hearing as needed.


Although rare, tetanus is an acute infectious disease that can be fatal. Booster inoculations are recommended every 10 years.

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