Most children and adults should see their dentist for a regular cleaning and check up every six months. People at a greater risk for oral diseases should have dental check ups more than twice a year. Tobacco and alcohol use, diabetes, pregnancy, periodontal and gum disease, poor oral hygiene and certain medical conditions are some of the many factors that your dentist takes into consideration when deciding how often you need your dental cleaning and check up.
Going to your regular check ups will help to keep your gums and teeth healthy as well as detect any early problems such as gum disease, oral cancer and cavities. The best way to maintain good oral health is to visit your dentist on a regular basis.
Fifty years ago, examinations of people entering the military showed that the average American’s teeth were in pretty bad shape and few people took good care of their teeth. There were no guidelines for how often you should see a dentist, and many dental professionals focused on fixing problems rather than preventing them. Dental and health organizations trying to set standards for preventive dentistry settled on a “best guess” recommendation of twice-yearly visits to the dentist for checkups and cleaning.
The recommendation proved to be a useful rule of thumb and has remained common. Even if you take excellent care of your teeth and gums at home, you need to see your dentist regularly so he or she can check for problems that you may not see or feel. Tooth decay generally doesn’t become visible or cause pain until it is in more advanced stages.
Regular visits allow your dentist to find early signs of decay and disease and treat problems at a manageable stage. Ask your dentist the best schedule for your routine dental visits.
On average, seeing a dentist twice a year works well for most people. A few people can get away with fewer visits; others may need more frequent visits. People with very little risk of cavities or gum disease can do fine seeing their dentist just once a year. People with high risk of periodontal disease(because of current gum disease, a weak immune response to bacterial infection or a predisposition to plaque buildup or cavities) might need to see the dentist every three or four months, or even more frequently, for the best care.
The schedule for any person may change during a lifetime. In times of stress or illness, it may be necessary to see the dentist more frequently than usual to help fight off a temporary infection or treat changes in your mouth. If you take good care of your teeth and gums at home and your dentist doesn’t find any cavities or gum disease for a few years, he or she may choose to lengthen the time between visits.
What Happens During a Dental Visit?
First, it is important to find a dentist with whom you feel comfortable. Once you’ve found a dentist you like, your next step is to schedule a check-up — before any problems arise.
On your first visit to a dentist, they will take a full health history. On subsequent visits, if your health status has changed, make sure to tell them.
Most dental visits are checkups. Regular checkups (ideally every six months) will help your teeth stay cleaner, last longer and can prevent painful problems from developing.
A thorough cleaning
Checkups almost always include a complete cleaning, either from your dentist or a dental hygienist. Using special instruments, a dental hygienist will scrape below the gumline, removing built-up plaque and tartar that can cause gum disease, cavities, bad breath and other problems. Your dentist or hygienist may also polish and floss your teeth.
A full examination
Your dentist will perform a thorough examination of your teeth, gums and mouth, looking for signs of disease or other problems. His or her goal is to help maintain your good oral health and to prevent problems from becoming serious, by identifying and treating them as soon as possible.
Depending on your age, risks of disease and symptoms, your dentist may recommend X-rays. X-rays can diagnose problems otherwise unnoticed, such as damage to jawbones, impacted teeth, abscesses, cysts or tumors, and decay between the teeth. A modern dental office uses machines that emit virtually no radiation — no more than you would receive from a day in the sun or a weekend watching TV. As a precaution, you should always wear a lead apron when having an X-ray. And, if you are pregnant, inform your dentist, as X-rays should only be taken in emergency situations.
Your dentist may ask for a Panoramic X-ray, or Panorex. This type of film provides a complete view of your upper and lower jaw in a single picture, and helps the dentist understand your bite and the relationship between the different teeth and your arch.
How Long Should I go Between Visits?
If your teeth and gums are in good shape, you probably won’t need to return for three to six months. If further treatment is required — say to fill a cavity, remove a wisdom tooth, or repair a broken crown — you should make an appointment before leaving the office. And don’t forget to ask your dentist any questions you may have —this is your chance to get the answers you need.