How to make sure you get a good dental exam

There are a lot of people who are afraid of the dentist, but these days there's really nothing to fear thanks to advances in technique and technology. Either way, dental exams are the best way to keep your mouth healthy and avoid costly procedures down the road.

What's on the menu for my dental exam?

A good dental exam includes several things:

  • A thorough physical examination of your teeth (called a dental checkup)
  • A discussion of your oral hygiene regimen
  • A rigorous dental cleaning.

A dentist performing a good dental exam will check for tooth cavities, chipping, staining, erosion, and a whole manner of other common dental problems. The dentist should also check your gums for signs of inflammation (swelling), abscesses, and gingivitis, which are all major contributing factors to premature tooth loss. While checking your teeth and gums, your dentist should also give your mouth a rigorous examination. Using routine oral x-rays, a dentist can spot problems in your mouth (such as certain forms of mouth cancer) far earlier than your doctor.

Following the dental checkup, your dentist will want to discuss your oral hygiene regimen. They will make suggestions on your routine, brushing and flossing techniques, and improvements you could make to your dental hygiene regimen. Your dentist may recommend particular products or medications to help you improve your dental hygiene, as well as suggesting treatments you might need to correct existing oral problems. This is usually a good opportunity to discuss the cost of corrective treatments such as fillings, tooth extraction, prosthetics, and root canals. Some of these treatments are expensive, so be sure to ask if there are any payment plans available or check your insurance options.

Finally, you should expect to receive a rigorous dental cleaning. This will involve using a high-speed brush and a mild abrasive powder on the surfaces of your teeth. This treatment will remove plaque and tartar and whiten your teeth, as well as improve your overall level of dental hygiene.

The big decision: to get x-rays, or not to get x-rays?

There are two types of dental x-rays – intraoral and extraoral. The intraoral x-ray scans are done inside the mouth and are used to view the teeth and the surrounding bone in great detail, which is great for finding cavities and checking the roots of the teeth. The extraoral scans are done outside the mouth, and are more focused on the jaw and the skull.

For healthy teeth, x-rays are generally needed every couple years. However, depending on the symptoms you have (tooth pain, etc) or if you're a new patient, your dentist may want to do an x-ray scan of your teeth. You shouldn’t be worried though – the amount of radiation received from a dental x-ray is really small and will not harm your health. Also, this will help uncover any problems before they get too painful!

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