A dental visit is usually pretty quick and therefore doesn’t seem particularly reliable to the average patient. Unless you have gum disease or another oral condition, each visit likely involves the exact same services, making you wonder whether or not it’s actually necessary to schedule appointments every six months.
But aside from the usual cavity check, most patients probably aren’t aware of the numerous types of examinations their dentists perform in order to assess the whole span of their oral health. This shroud of mystery could very well explain the hesitancy or nervousness many patients experience before each visit.
Here is a simple breakdown of every examination that takes place each time you go to the dentist for a check-up:
Tooth Decay/Cavity Exam
That metal stick with a thin, curved end your dentist uses to touch the surface of your teeth is a sickle probe, aka an “explorer.” This instrument can detect cavities but this is just one of its many functions. The explorer can also determine how much enamel, plaque and tartar are on your teeth in addition to a tooth’s hardness. Oral and systemic acid produced by oral bacteria can weaken enamel, which can cause cavities, tooth decay and a series of other problems.
X-rays are another part of the tooth decay and cavity exam because they allow the dentist to see decay and cavities that have just begun to form, especially in areas that are not easy to see, like the tiny gaps in between teeth. In addition to spotting tooth decay and cavities, this exam can identify the cause of each problem and help the dentist figure out what kind of treatment will reduce them.
Periodontal probes look just like a sickle probe with the exception of its blunted edge, which is used to assess the state of your gums. Your dentist will measure pocket depth, or the amount of space between your gum tissue and tooth. The numbers your Dentist calls out are measurements read off the periodontal probe. (Numbers between one and three are generally healthy and normal.) They will then compare the findings with previous measurements in order to determine the presence of gum disease. A loss of connective tissue is a sign of bone loss.
Pocket depth must be measured and recorded twice a year in order to monitor changes in bone and tissue attachment levels. Many patients with gum disease don’t find out they have it until it’s too late, so it is crucial that they are examined for a condition that is often difficult to detect at home.
Oral Cancer Exam
That blue light your dentist shines on your mouth comes from a VELscope, which is used to examine the mucous membrane lining inside the mouth. Any abnormalities in this area, which is known as the oral mucosa, could be an early sign of oral cancer. If oral cancer is caught early through an oral cancer exam, however, there is a chance only minimal surgery will be needed to prevent the cancer from spreading.
This is when your dentist puts his or her fingers near your ears and asks you to open and close your mouth. In this exam, your dentist is checking your Temporal Mandibular Joints, which connect the jawbone to the skull. If the dentist detects poor bite alignment, tenderness in the joint and connecting muscles, or any particularly sensitive areas, the patient might have TMJ, an abbreviation used to describe any disorder or symptoms related to your Temporal Mandibular Joints. The exam will help the dentist identify the cause of the problem and figure out what type of treatment should be applied.
A cleaning removes all plaque in addition to biofilm, which is a layer of oral bacteria that can stick to your teeth, and calculus, a byproduct of hardened biofilm. Having plaque, calculus and biofilm removed at least twice a year dramatically decreases your risk of developing cavities, gum disease, and even bad breath.
Now Does It Seem Worth It?
These examinations are purely routine and do not include the services your dentist could provide for any individual problems you might have. So when you consider everything your dentist does in a single visit, doesn’t it make sense to say that a check-up is most definitely worth your time and money? Besides, not visiting the dentist regularly increases your chances of developing a potentially serious oral health problem, which would only cost you more money in the long-term. Remember, your dentist is trying to address issues before they become exacerbated so that your two visits per year are the only days you spend in the dental chair!