Regular dental exams are an important part of preventive health care. During a dental exam, the dentist or hygienist will clean your teeth and identify gum inflammation or bone loss. The dentist or hygienist will evaluate your risk of developing tooth decay and other oral health problems, as well as check your face, neck and mouth for abnormalities. A dental exam may also include dental X-rays or other diagnostic procedures.
During a dental exam, the dentist or hygienist will likely discuss your diet and oral hygiene habits and may demonstrate proper brushing and flossing techniques. Other topics for discussion during a dental exam may include:
- Any medications you're taking
- Use of tobacco products
- Consequences of tooth loss
- Benefits of crowns, fixed bridges or dental implants
- Use of dentures
- Cosmetic procedures
A dental exam also gives you the opportunity to ask questions about oral health.
Why it's done
Regular dental exams help protect your oral health and general well-being. A dental exam gives your dentist a chance to provide tips on caring for your teeth and to detect any problems early — when they're most treatable.
When to have a dental exam
The American Dental Hygienists' Association recommends that adults schedule dental exams every six months — or according to their dentists' or hygienists' advice. Even if you no longer have your natural teeth, it's important to see your dentist for regular dental exams to maintain oral health.
How you prepare
If you're scheduling your first adult dental exam or you're looking for a new dentist, consider calling us and asking any questions you may have. We are conveniently located and we participate in most health plans. Before you're treated, make sure you understand the fees and payment options.
If you're feeling anxious about having a dental exam, share your concerns with us. We will be able to adjust your treatment to help you feel more comfortable.
What you can expect
During a dental exam, the dentist or hygienist will:
- Evaluate your overall health and oral hygiene
- Evaluate your risk of tooth decay, root decay, and gum or bone disease
- Evaluate your need for tooth restoration using fillings or crowns, or tooth replacement using dentures or dental implants
- Check your bite and jaw for problems
- Remove any surface stains or deposits on your teeth
- Demonstrate proper cleaning techniques for your teeth or dentures
- Assess how much fluoride you're getting through your diet and use of oral hygiene products
- Take oral X-rays or, if necessary, do other diagnostic procedures
During a dental exam, your dentist or hygienist will also ask about any health problems you have or medications you're taking and discuss how they might affect your oral health. If you have diabetes, for example, you're at increased risk of gum disease. If you take certain medications — including antihistamines, antidepressants and high blood pressure drugs — you might experience dry mouth and have a higher risk of tooth decay. If you have arthritis, your dentist or hygienist may show you how to insert the handle of your toothbrush into a rubber ball for easier use or recommend using an electric toothbrush.
If you have dentures, your dentist or hygienist will examine how well your dentures fit and make any necessary adjustments.
Dental exams may also include counseling about the oral health risks associated with a poor diet, smoking, chewing tobacco, alcohol abuse, eating disorders, oral piercings and not wearing a mouth guard during contact sports.
An oral X-ray allows the dentist to see detailed images of specific sections of your mouth. X-ray film is traditionally developed in a darkroom, but a newer technique allows X-ray images to be sent to a computer and viewed on a screen. Various types of oral X-rays are available, including:
- Bitewing. This type of X-ray allows the dentist to see the crowns of the upper and lower teeth. During a bitewing X-ray, you'll bite down on the X-ray film holder while the X-ray images are being taken.
- Periapical. This type of X-ray allows the dentist to see the tip of the root of a tooth.
- Occlusal. This type of X-ray allows the dentist to see the way the upper teeth and corresponding lower teeth fit together when the jaw is closed.
- Panoramic. This type of X-ray gives the dentist a comprehensive view of the entire mouth.
X-rays aren't typically needed at every dental visit. If you're concerned about the radiation exposure of traditional X-rays, talk to your dentist.
Oral cancer exam
During your dental exam, your dentist or hygienist will look for any signs of oral cancer. He or she will feel the area under your jaw, the sides of your neck, and the insides of your lips and cheeks, as well as examine your tongue and the roof and floor of your mouth.
In some cases, the dentist may recommend making a dental impression of one or both jaws to produce a replica of your teeth and oral tissue. This can help the dentist or hygienist evaluate your bite or make a mouth guard or bleaching trays. The dentist or hygienist will fill horseshoe-shaped trays with a soft, gelatin-like material and place them over your upper or lower teeth. After a few minutes, the trays are removed and used to create a dental cast of your mouth. The dentist may also have you bite down on a soft material to record and evaluate your bite.
After your dental exam, the dentist or hygienist will discuss your oral health, including your risk of tooth decay, gum disease and any other oral health problems, and preventive measures you can take to improve and protect your oral health. The dentist or hygienist will also recommend the best time to return for a follow-up visit — typically every six months. If you're at high risk of tooth decay or gum disease or have other oral health problems, the dentist or hygienist may recommend more frequent checkups.