As you sit in the dentist’s chair looking up at the posters on the ceiling, do you ever wonder what the dentist is doing? Do you actually know what are they looking for? It turns out most of us do not.
The dental examination begins with the collection of your complete medical history. Understanding your medical history can provide the dentist with vital information on any health condition you may have which can ultimately impact the success of any dental treatments.
Radiographs (x-rays) are also taken and studied so that the dentist can see things not seen by the naked eye. Having the visual of the inside of your teeth, the condition of your roots and areas between your teeth, help the dentist determine bone loss, root health and the indication of any cysts or growths than may affect your overall oral health.
Next a full visual scan of the teeth is done, comparing what is seen with what appears on the x-rays. The dentist checks not only the teeth and gums, but also other soft tissues. Knowing the condition of the gums and seeing any signs of as periodontal disease, provides information on the overall health of the supporting structure (gums) that can lead to loosening of the teeth and potential bone and/or tooth loss.
The exam continues by checking other areas such as the tongue, roof of the mouth (palate) and floor of the mouth for any visible signs of inflammation or bleeding. Looking for signs of white lesions or oral cancer and/or suspicious growths or blocked salivary glands, are an essential part of this dental exam. Your dentist will also check the general condition of the bones in the face, jaws and around the mouth. In doing so, the dentist has a clear picture of the overall function of your temporomandibular joint (joint that joins your jaw to the skull) and other areas such as the overall health of your sinus cavity.
Dentists will also examine your neck area, feeling the glands and lymph nodes for possible signs of inflammation which could be an indicator of other general health conditions. The glands in the neck area are prominent gateways to the rest of your general overall health.
The dentist is also looking for many other things such as, cavities, damaged or missing teeth, restorations in the mouth such as root canals or crowns and the positioning of the teeth.
Dentists have the opportunity explain what they are doing during the examination and provide you with a summary of their findings when they are finished. If the examination reveals a problem that requires treatment, there should be a two-way discussion on the options available. If your dentist identifies a problem that is complex or requires specialized treatment; the dentist may refer you to a dental specialist. Patients, as an active part of your oral health team, are encouraged to ask questions.
Here are some important things your dentist is checking during an exam:
Visiting your dental hygienist is an important part of maintaining or improving your oral and overall health. Your dental hygienist is an oral health professional whose area of expertise focuses on preventative oral health care..
The dental hygienist will begin by reviewing your medical history with you including documenting any medications you are currently taking. This is an important step to ensure he/she is aware of any medical conditions you may have that could influence your dental hygiene care. The dental hygienist will also inquire about your dental history such as previous dental work you have had done, your oral hygiene routine and any concerns you have with your teeth.
The next step is assessing the condition of the head and neck region, your teeth and oral tissues. This will include completing a head and neck exam to screen for oral cancer, checking the tissues in your mouth, assessing the health of the gums, and may also include taking your vital signs. Any areas of concern which the dental hygienist is unable to treat will be referred to another health professional such as your physician.
Once you and your dental hygienist have reviewed and agreed on the treatment plan, you will need to give your permission to proceed with the proposed treatment prior to getting started. Your treatment will likely include scaling and root planning (debridement) to remove plaque and calculus from the tooth surfaces. This is done using powered instruments such as an ultrasonic instrument and/or hand scalers. The dental hygienist may also share information with you related to brushing/flossing, risk of dental decay, smoking cessation, nutrition information, and/or the link between oral-systemic health based on your individual needs.
Some of your teeth may then be polished to remove any remaining stains and if needed, you may receive a fluoride treatment to strengthen your teeth, prevent decay, and/or decrease sensitivity.
Based on the condition of your teeth and gums, the dental hygienist will determine an appropriate ongoing care schedule. Usually we recommend that all our patients come in for professional cleanings every three to six months.