A dental exam is a checkup of your teeth and gums. Most children and adults should get a dental exam every six months. These exams are important for protecting oral health. Oral health problems can become serious and painful if not treated promptly.
Dental exams are usually performed by both a dentist and a dental hygienist. A dentist is a doctor specially trained to care for teeth and gums. A dental hygienist is a health care professional trained to clean teeth and help patients maintain good oral health habits. Although dentists can treat people of all ages, children often go to pediatric dentists. Pediatric dentists are dentists who have received additional training to focus on dental care for children.
Other names: dental checkup, oral exam
Dental exams are used to help find tooth decay, gum disease, and other oral health problems early, when they’re easier to treat. The exams are also used to help educate people on the best ways to care for their teeth and gums.
Most adults and children should get a dental exam every six months. If you have swollen, bleeding gums (known as gingivitis) or other gum disease, your dentist may want to see you more often. Some adults with gum disease may see a dentist three or four times a year. More frequent exams may help prevent a serious gum disease known as periodontitis. Periodontitis can lead to infection and tooth loss.
Babies should have their first dental appointment within six months of getting their first tooth, or by 12 months of age. After that, they should get an exam every six months, or according to the recommendation of your child’s dentist. Also, your child may need to have more frequent visits if the dentist finds a problem with tooth development or other another oral health issue.
A typical dental exam will include a cleaning by a hygienist, x-rays on certain visits, and a checkup of your mouth by the dentist.
During a cleaning:
Dental x-rays are images that can show cavities, gum disease, bone loss, and other problems that can’t be seen by just looking at the mouth.
During an x-ray, the dentist or hygienist will:
There are different types of dental x-rays. A type called a full-mouth series may be taken once every few years to check your overall oral health. Another type, called bitewing x-rays, may be used more often to check for cavities or other tooth problems.
During the dentist’s checkup, the dentist will:
In addition to the above checks, a pediatric dentist may check to see if your child’s teeth are developing normally.
If you have certain health conditions, you may need to take antibiotics before your exam. These conditions include:
If you’re not sure whether you need to take antibiotics, talk to your dentist and/or other health care provider.
Also, some people feel anxious about going to the dentist. If you or your child feels this way, you may want to talk to the dentist beforehand. He or she may be able to help you or your child feel more relaxed and comfortable during the exam.
There is very little risk to having a dental exam. The cleaning may be uncomfortable, but it is not usually painful.
Dental x-rays are safe for most people. The dose of radiation in an x-ray is very low. But x-rays are not usually recommended for pregnant women, unless it’s an emergency. Be sure to tell your dentist if you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant.
Results may include one or more of the following conditions:
If results show that you or your child has a cavity, you probably will need to make another appointment with the dentist to treat it. If you have questions about how cavities are treated, talk to the dentist.
If results show that you have gingivitis or other gum problems, your dentist may recommend:
If bone loss or tooth development problems are found, you may need more tests and/or dental treatments.
To keep your mouth healthy, you’ll need to take good care of your teeth and gums, both by having regular dental exams and practicing good dental habits at home. Good home oral care includes the following steps: