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Dental Exam

Reasons to Have One, What to Expect, Associated Risks & More

Key Points

  • Regular dental exams are crucial for maintaining oral health, with professionals able to address issues like tartar buildup that can't be managed at home.
  • Dentists can detect early signs of dental problems such as gingivitis, cavities, bone loss, and developmental issues during these check-ups.
  • Dental exams also serve as a tool for identifying signs of overall health issues like arthritis, diabetes, and lupus, which often show up in oral health first.
  • For children, these exams are particularly important to monitor proper teeth development and to catch potential issues early.
  • The article highlights that despite some people's anxiety towards dental exams, they pose no risk and are more beneficial than avoiding them.

4 Reasons Why You Would Need a Dental Exam

1. Tooth cleaning

The main reason people go to the dentist every six months or twice a year is for teeth cleaning. Most people who take good care of their teeth don’t experience severe problems with plaque and other dental buildup issues, but it is still important to get regular cleanings. In fact, certain issues, like tartar buildup, can only be treated at the dentist’s office, not at home.[1]

2. Checking your dental health

Going to the dentist regularly also involves a physical examination that allows your dentist to make sure you don’t have the signs of any dental problems. These can include gingivitis, cavities, bone loss, and development problems, as well as severe dental and periodontal issues. With some dental problems, you might not experience any symptoms that will indicate something is wrong. This is why your dentist will still need to check your teeth and gums every six months or so.

3. Other health concerns

Your dentist is actually focused on more than just your mouth and dental health when he or she looks at your teeth. In fact, your oral health tells a lot about the state of your overall health. Just like when you see the eye doctor and he or she is checking your eyes for signs of diabetes and other problems, your dentist is looking for the signs of issues like arthritis, diabetes, and lupus, which can be present in your oral health before you start to notice symptoms elsewhere.[2]

4. Dental exams for children

Children need regular dental exams, just like adults. This is important so your dentist can make sure your child’s teeth are coming in straight and that they do not have any cavities or other dental problems. It is recommended that children receive their first dental visit within six months of cutting their first tooth or their first birthday, whichever comes first.[3] A visit every six months afterward is usually standard, although children with oral health issues or dentistry products, like braces, will need to be checked more often.

Understanding a Dental Exam

Your regular dental exam will usually begin with a discussion with the dental assistant about your insurance and any billing issues. Afterward, the dental hygienist will seat you in a large dentist’s chair with an overhead light.[3] The hygienist will then ask you several questions about whether or not you have been experiencing any noticeable oral health symptoms or problems.

During the cleaning, the dental hygienist will scrape your teeth with dental tools in order to clean the plaque from them, then floss between your teeth. After this, the dental hygienist will use an electric toothbrush to brush your teeth. This will sometimes be followed by the application of fluoride on your teeth.

Not all dental visits require x-rays, but in some instances, your dentist will ask for them. Your dental hygienist will place a lead apron over you, have you bite down on a plastic mouth guard, and take a picture of your teeth with an x-ray. Usually, this occurs before the cleaning.

Your dentist will then look at your x-rays, checking your teeth and gums for any unhealthy signs, bite problems, and signs of oral cancer. If your child is going in for the procedure, your dentist will also check to make sure their teeth look normal as they are coming in and developing.

Risks of a Dental Exam

1. No risk

Dental exams do not require much of a risk on your part. In many cases, it is much more of a risk to go without a dental exam, because your oral health can reveal other health issues developing in your body. Having x-rays taken is not risky, but those who are pregnant will usually skip them unless there is some serious dental emergency for which x-rays are needed.[3]

What to Expect with a Dental Exam

1. Discomfort and fear

Many people go into a dental exam with varying degrees of anxiety, either because they have heard horror stories about dental visits or because they were uncomfortable at the dentist as a child.[4] The most important action you can take is to seek out a dentist who makes you feel comfortable and to discuss your feelings of discomfort with your dentist. They can make sure to be very gentle and also help you avoid feelings of anxiety and discomfort down the road. A referral from someone you know is usually a good place to start your search.

2. Dental care at home

Dental visits are still recommended every 6 to 12 months, even if you do take good care of your teeth. However, those who take better care of their teeth usually have better, easier cleanings and are less likely to experience problems with their oral health. Brushing twice a day for at least two minutes, flossing daily, replacing your toothbrush every three months, using toothpaste with fluoride in it, and avoiding eating too many sweets and smoking are all ways to help make your regular cleaning and checkup a breeze.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About a Dental Exam

  • Is my dental exam covered by my insurance, and if so, how often can I get one?
  • Are any of the symptoms I’ve been experiencing be possible effects of an oral health issue?
  • Should I expect to get x-rays during this exam?
  • What is your dental expertise? Do you often treat adults, children, the elderly, etc.?
  • How long have you been working as a dentist?
  • How long has your practice been open?
  • Are there any ways I can better care for my oral health at home?

Dental Exam May Also be Known as:

  • Dentist visit
  • Cleaning
  • Teeth or tooth cleaning
  • Oral exam


Frequently asked questions

  • Why are regular dental exams important?

    Regular dental exams are important because they allow professionals to clean your teeth, detect early signs of dental and overall health problems, and monitor the proper development of children's teeth.
  • What can a dentist detect during a regular dental exam?

    During a regular dental exam, a dentist can detect issues like tartar buildup, gingivitis, cavities, bone loss, and developmental issues. They can also spot signs of overall health issues like arthritis, diabetes, and lupus.
  • Can dental exams help detect other health problems?

    Yes, dental exams can help detect overall health issues like arthritis, diabetes, and lupus. These conditions often manifest in oral health before other symptoms appear.
  • Why are dental exams important for children?

    Dental exams are crucial for children to ensure that their teeth are developing correctly and to identify any potential issues early.
  • What does a dental exam process involve?

    A dental exam typically involves a discussion about insurance and billing, professional teeth cleaning, possible x-rays, and a check for signs of oral cancer.
  • Do dental exams pose any risks?

    No, dental exams do not pose any risks. In fact, they are more beneficial than skipping them.
  • What if I have anxiety about dental exams?

    If you have anxiety about dental exams, it can be helpful to find a comfortable dentist and discuss any discomfort with them. They can help alleviate your fears.
  • How important is regular dental care at home?

    Regular dental care at home is very important. It complements professional exams and helps maintain good oral health.

Solv has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

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