In a census taken in 2015, it was found that the percent of adults aged 18-64 with a dental visit in the past year was only 64 percent. This is a serious public health issue; regular dental checkups not only benefit your dental hygiene but can also help in detecting other undiagnosed medical issues such as sleep apnea and the potential for heart disease. One might say, seeing your dentist regularly could possibly save your life.
How Often and Why?
Most dentists prefer to see their patients for a routine checkup every six months. This is preferred to stay up to date on your oral hygiene and also avoid the need for emergency services that may or may not be covered by your insurance. Seeing your doctor at scheduled intervals can aid in early detection of gum disease, oral cancer and other potential diseases. Pregnant women may want to have checkups more frequently during their pregnancy due their heightened vulnerability to gum disease and tooth decay during that time.
Regular visits to the dentist can not only help you detect serious health issues, regular cleanings can actually prevent the development of such conditions. A correlation has been found between heart disease and severe forms of gum disease — 91 percent of patients with heart disease report a severe form of gum disease. Studies show inflammation in the mouth causes inflammation throughout the blood vessels, which could raise blood pressure and cause a severe heart attack. Regular visits can help you to avoid the onset of gum disease and the associated potential health risks.
At the beginning of your appointment, you can anticipate a thorough survey about your personal and family medical history. This will offer your dentist further insight into issues that they should be on high alert for. For example, if you note that you are a consistent snorer in your sleep, it will tip off to your dentist to discuss snoring mouthpiece options with you during your exam or screen you for potential sleep apnea.
In addition to your medical history, your dentist will gather further information through a series of tests and examinations. When your dentist asks you to open your mouth and say “ah”, they are looking for inflammation in your tonsils, any health indicators present on your tongue, and any other potential abnormalities.
X-rays are vital in a thorough dental exam. They enable your dentist to see what is happening inside your mouth that is not visible to the naked eye. X-rays can show decay, cavities, impacted teeth, and even signs of cancer.
Most dentists have switched to digital X-rays that emit 90 percent less radiation. There are many different types of x-rays that your dentist might conduct depending on what features they would like to focus on:
- Cone Beam Computerized Tomography: Provides a 3D display to better inspect the spacing of teeth and bones.
- Bitewing: An x-ray film is placed between the teeth to visualize the crowns of the upper and lower teeth.
- Periapical: Used to see the entire tooth and the surrounding bone.
- Panoramic: Gives the dentist a broad view of the entire mouth.
- Occlusal: Aids in evaluating how the upper teeth and corresponding lower teeth fit together when your jaw is closed.
If you have a sensitivity to radiation, make sure to check in with your dental hygienist to see which kind of x-rays that their office uses.
Dental cleanings are an opportunity for your dental hygienist to remove any tartar and plaque build up. Plague is the leading cause of tooth decay due to its acidic nature. It can eat away at the tooth’s enamel and cause cavities to form. If the plaque and cavity go untreated, the plague can travel down to the bone of the tooth and cause it to loosen and fall out. If you are a consistent coffee, black tea or red wine drinker, regular cleanings can also help to reduce the amount of staining that such beverages can cause.
Oral Cancer Screening
Typically, during the dental cleaning you will also go through an oral cancer screening. There are two steps to the oral cancer screening. The first step is conducted by the dentist feeling the soft spots of your throat, neck and lymph nodes for any abnormalities. The second step uses a technology called a VELscope. A VELscope is a blue light that is shone into your mouth and illuminates any unhealthy tissues.
Making a Plan
A thorough dental exam is the gateway to a healthy smile. After a thorough examination, you and your dentist will design a treatment plan to address any issues that may have been found. Perhaps you may need a couple of cavities filled or a bridge repaired. A patient can only withstand so much dental work in one appointment. Making a plan to establish a timeline for repairs, treatments and regular cleanings you are putting your health first and possibly prolonging your life.