In addition to daily brushing and flossing, you can help protect your oral health by seeing your dentist regularly for checkups. It’s recommended that most people get a dental checkup every six months, but your dentist may recommend more frequent or fewer visits, depending on your dental health history.
The Dental Checkup: What to Expect
In most cases, a dental hygienist and dentist will perform your dental checkup. Not every dentist operates the same way, but a dental checkup typically involves:
- Cleaning and polishing. Your dental hygienist will use a special instrument called a hand scaler or ultrasonic dental instrument to scrape and remove the tartar from your teeth. He or she will then polish your teeth, often with a rotating rubber cup or brush, to remove any remaining plaque or stains.
- Education. After the cleaning, your hygienist or dentist will discuss any dental hygiene problems that were detected, and show you how to brush and floss more effectively, if necessary.
- Examination. Both your dental hygienist and dentist will examine your teeth, gums, and mouth, to look for changes or signs of a problem (for example, a cavity or gum disease or early signs of oral cancer). During the examination, your dentist may also use a special probe to measure the “pockets” between your teeth and gums, an explorer tool to poke at your teeth and determine if any cavities are present, and a mouth mirror to get a better view of the sides and back of your teeth. If you have any visible problems, your dentist may recommend a particular treatment or may refer you to a specialist, such as a periodontist or orthodontist, for further treatment.
- X-rays. At some of your dental visits, your dentist may decide to take X-rays of your teeth to look for decay, gum disease, or other dental problems. X-rays expose you to radiation so in order to avoid having them done more than necessary, bring copies of previous X-rays with you when you’re visiting a new dentist.
Sometimes you may have a more thorough dental checkup, which is called a comprehensive examination. You will probably have a comprehensive examination the first time you see a dentist, and periodically thereafter. During a comprehensive dental examination, your dentist will:
- Thoroughly examine your mouth, head, and neck
- Discuss your medical history with you
- Take a series of X-rays
Getting the Most Out of Your Dental Checkup
Since your oral health is closely related to your overall health, it’s important to communicate any concerns or problems you are having with your dentist. Be sure to:
- Tell your dentist about any new health problems you have been diagnosed with since your last visit (for example, diabetes or heart disease).
- Make a list of all medications and supplements you take, including their dosages. Take this list with you to your dental checkup so your dentist can review it.
- Let your dentist know if you suffer from dental anxiety. Fear of the dentist is common, and your dentist can work with you to make you more comfortable during your checkup.
- Talk with your dentist about any problems or changes you’ve noticed with your teeth, gums, or the inside of your mouth. The earlier your dentist knows about pain, sensitivity, or a suspicious lump, the earlier he or she can diagnose and treat it.