What to Expect at a Dental Checkup

What to Expect at a Dental Checkup

Does the thought of a dental checkup make you a little queasy? You’re not alone. As many as 40 million American adults experience some level of fear about visiting the dentist, according to Columbia University College of Dental Medicine. Most of the time their fear comes from the unknown. Many people who visit the dentist just don’t know what to expect and what they imagine is far worse than anything they’re likely to experience.

We’re here to demystify the process by breaking it down, step by step. Here is why you should always incorporate a regular dental checkup into your schedule.

Why is a dental checkup important?

Avoiding the dentist definitely does more harm than good and not just to your teeth and gums. Missing a dental checkup can be detrimental to your overall health and wellbeing. This may seem counterintuitive, but visiting the dentist regularly is actually the best way to avoid more visits! The longer you put off your checkup, the greater possibility for problems to arise which in turn results in even MORE dental exams in the future.

At a checkup, your dentist reviews your medical history as well as assessing your overall oral hygiene. The health of your teeth and gums affects many systems in your body, most notably the heart. Excessive plaque on your teeth has been linked to patients at higher risk for heart disease, and poor dental health puts you at risk for chronic health problems like diabetes.

A quick checkup is ten times easier than dealing with any of the accompanying problems that come from putting off your visit.

What happens at a dental checkup?

After speaking to the front desk by phone or booking your appointment online, you’ arrive at the office during your scheduled time. You’ll be welcomed to a clean, modern, and comfortable waiting room by our friendly staff. You may need to fill out some paperwork, which will ask about your personal information including medical history, address, and insurance information. If you don’t have insurance, don’t worry! Many practices (ours included!) have payment plans for folks without insurance. Our front desk staff will be happy to discuss payment options with you, as well as answer any questions you may have.

After a brief wait, a dental hygienist or an assistant will walk you back to the room where your checkup will take place. He or she will ask you a variety of questions about your diet, medical history, medications, and any allergies. Make sure you let your them know if you smoke, are pregnant, or suffer from medical conditions such as diabetes or arthritis.  All of these factors can influence your oral health. If you have anxieties or concerns, this is a great time to discuss them! Your hygienist will be able to offer suggestions to reduce stress while he or she is performing the exam. Often, even hearing the explanation of what services will be performed can reduce many people’s anxiety.

The hygienist will examine your teeth for signs of gum disease.  Dental x-rays will be taken to properly diagnose your dental condition. There are few different types of X-rays that may be utilized during an initial exam:

A Bitewing x-rays let the dentist see the upper and lower teeth. The patient will ‘bite’ down on an x-ray film holder while x-ray images are taken.

A Periapical x-ray allow the dentist to see the full length of 2-3 teeth and surrounding bone.

Panoramic x-rays give the dentist the broadest view of the entire mouth and jaw bones.

Cone beam computerized tomography provides a 3-D view so the dentist can get a better idea of teeth spacing and adjacent structures. This is a more specialized x-ray for specific procedures.

After the hygienist finishes the x-rays, you’ll meet the dentist! He or she will conduct a more thorough examination of your teeth and gums.  This will include the evaluation of your overall dental health. After discussing any medical history concerns and assessing your overall gum health, your dentist will check your bite and jaw for any issues and evaluate your risk for tooth decay.

Your examination also involves a screening for oral cancer, which involves the dentist checking under your jaw, the insides of your lips and cheeks, the sides of your tongue, and the roof and floor of your mouth. Your dentist will review your x-rays and discuss any abnormalities he or she notices. In some cases, your dentist may suggest tooth restoration/replacement, or other procedures that you might benefit from. Finally, your dentist will review best practices and tips on caring for your teeth and gums at home. He or she will be happy to show you proper brushing and flossing techniques, as well as suggest brands of toothpaste or specific toothbrushes.

After the dentist completes his or his assessment your hygienist will clean your teeth. This will be a bit more extensive than the brushing (and hopefully flossing!) that you perform at home. He or she will remove plaque and tartar buildup, floss and clean between and around each tooth, and finish by polishing your teeth with a special toothpaste that helps keep your teeth smooth and shiny between visits.

If you have any questions or concerns, you’ll have an opportunity to discuss these with your dentist before you leave. Depending on the health of your teeth and gums, your dentist will schedule either a follow-up appointment or another checkup. Most people visit the dentist for a checkup either twice year, or every two years.

What can I do to prepare for my appointment?

The best way to prepare for your appointment is maintain good dental habits year-round. This includes regular brushing twice a day and using toothpaste that includes fluoride. Flossing is ideal, but if you can’t bring yourself to do this regularly, try for once a week at best. Daily use of mouthwash is also a great way to help control plaque buildup between visits and keep your breath fresh.

To get ready for your visit, make sure you know the names of any medications you are taking, and that you understand you and your family’s medical history so you’re able to answer questions.

If you are anxious about your visit, there are a variety of tried and true coping mechanisms. Some patients bring headphones and listen to their favorite music instead of hearing the noises associated with dental equipment. Others work out a series of hand signals with their dentist or hygienist, so that communication is easier should they need to take a break during the procedure. For some, meditation or deep breathing can be successful at alleviating nervousness.  If you are curious about other options, the dentist can discuss utilizing nitrous or IV sedation if warranted.

When it comes to your checkup, the best thing to remember is that you’re doing what is necessary and important for your health. Any nervousness or discomfort that you may experience is short-lived, and your future self will thank you for taking good care of your gums and teeth! Regular checkups will give you the confidence to be proud of your smile.

Are there things that you expect from a dental office that we haven’t covered here? Sound off in the comments!

After your checkup, Ideal Dental offers a variety of services for any additional needs! Click here to learn more about our services.