For healthy individuals, a routine dental examination (sometimes also called a teeth check up or teeth cleaning appointment) is recommended every six months. A dental check up can identify problems of which patients may be unaware. While the dental check up is important for patients of all ages, the importance of dental check up is increased for anyone who has gum disease, braces, filings, or other dental restorations. These patients may have need to have a dental check up every three months.
What happens at a dentist check up
A routine dental checkup usually includes both a dental exam and cleaning. When you arrive for your routine dental exam and cleaning, you will be asked to complete an updated health history form that documents any allergies (including latex allergies) and health problems you have experienced. Before the dental check up procedure begins, you will also be asked about any medications you are currently taking and any concerns you may have about your oral health.
The first part of your teeth cleaning and checkup may be completed by a dental hygienist. He or she will assess your general oral health by looking at your gums and teeth. Any missing teeth, gum pockets, or areas of decay will be documented for the dentist to review. The dental hygienist will thoroughly clean your teeth to remove plaque and the tartar (hardened plaque) that can only be removed with professional cleaning. Typically, professional cleanings are done with a series of handheld dental scalers. For deeper cleanings, ultrasonic scalers may be used to clean underneath the gum line. A professional cleaning may also include flossing the teeth.
After the teeth are clean, the next part of the dental check up procedure is usually polishing. A hygienist will polish the teeth to remove surface stains that may be present. Polishing is generally done by applying an abrasive substance to the teeth with a rotating, rubber-tipped dental brush. Sometimes, air polishing may also be available. If recommended by the dentist, the hygienist may also administer a professional fluoride treatment at the conclusion of the dental check up procedure. This involves applying a highly concentrated fluoride solution to the teeth, and it can provide additional protection against decay for high-risk patients.
After the hygienist has finished, the dentist will review your dental records and do an additional dental check up procedure. This includes a brief teeth check up to check for cavities, gum disease, oral cancer, and other areas of concern. If any issues are discovered, the dentist will make treatment recommendations. These might include returning for more frequent professional cleanings, returning for a filling or other restorative work, or referring you to another dental specialist for a more advanced dental check up.
To properly examine dental concerns, x-rays may sometimes be recommended as the last step of the dental check up procedure. At least two x-rays are routinely taken during a dental check up. They can be helpful in locating cavities between the teeth, examining wisdom teeth, and checking that any tooth restorations are still intact. Your dentist will recommend x-rays and dental check up intervals based on your overall oral health.
After the dental check up procedure has finished, both the dentist and dental hygienist can answer any questions you may have about how to properly care for your mouth at home. They may recommend specific toothbrushes, toothpastes, or mouthwashes. If needed, the dentist may give you prescriptions for higher-strength toothpastes or mouthwashes that are specially designed to reduce the risk of gum disease and decay.
What to expect at a comprehensive dental check up
A comprehensive dental check up procedure includes the oral health components of a routine dental examination and additional checks of the head, jaw, and neck areas. This type of dental examination procedure is most often performed at your first dental check up with a new dental practice and may also be done periodically as part of your routine dental check up procedure.
You will be asked to complete a health history form when you arrive for your comprehensive dental check up. After reviewing your health history questionnaire, the dentist will begin the dental check up procedure. The first part of this type of dental check up involves the dentist gently touching the lymph nodes in your neck area to feel for any swelling or tenderness that may indicate an infection. He or she will also check for swelling in your salivary glands. During the next part of the dental check up procedure, the dentist will examine your temporomandibular joint (TMJ), the joint which connects the jawbone with the skull, to make sure it is working properly and not causing any pain. Then, the dentist will assess the soft tissues of the mouth for cuts, swelling, sores, or masses. The insides of the lips and cheeks, the tongue, the roof of the mouth, and the area underneath the tongue will all be examined. The dentist will also look at your tonsils and the back of your throat. If any areas of concern are found, you may be referred to a doctor.
The next part of the dental examination procedure will look closely at your gums. The dentist will visually inspect them for signs of inflammation and bleeding. A small probe may be used to measure the depth of gum pockets (spaces between the gums and the teeth) and to check if your gums bleed when lightly touched with the probe. If you do have some gum concerns, a deep professional cleaning may be recommended, and your dentist may also prescribe special toothpaste that can reduce additional gum damage. For more advanced gum issues, your dentist may refer you to a periodontist (a gum specialist) for a specialist dental exam and cleaning.
The dentist will examine your bite to check that your upper and lower teeth come together symmetrically. This is generally done by simply observing you opening and closing your mouth. If a closer inspection is warranted, you may also be asked to bite into some wax so that the impression can be analyzed. A referral to an orthodontist may be recommended if there are any issues with your bite.
The dental examination procedure will then proceed with a clinical examination of your teeth. The dentist will carefully examine every surface of each tooth to look for soft areas that suggest decay. A special probe called a dental explorer may be used to confirm the presence of soft areas on the teeth. During this part of the exam, any existing fillings, crowns, caps, veneers, braces, or other dental work will be inspected for any issues.
If the dentist discovers any issues during your exam, he or she may recommend that x-rays be taken to obtain more detailed information and provide appropriate treatment. X-rays can be used to confirm the presence of cavities, assess the severity of gum disease, check the status of wisdom teeth, and investigate orthodontic issues. Most routine x-rays can usually be taken with you sitting in the dental chair. X-rays may be taken by your dentist, hygienist, or another technician.