Breaking Down Every Exam Your Dentist Performs During A Check Up
A dental check up is usually pretty quick. Therefore, it may not seem particularly reliable to the average patient. Unless you have gum disease or another oral condition, each exam likely involves the exact same services. This may make you wonder whether it’s really necessary to schedule appointments every six months.
However, aside from the usual cavity check, most patients probably aren’t aware of the numerous types of examinations their dentists perform. This shroud of mystery could very well explain the hesitancy or anxiety many patients experience before each visit.
Here’s a simple breakdown of every exam 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 that’s just one of its many functions.
The explorer can also determine how much enamel, plaque and tartar are on your teeth. In addition, it tells your dentist how hard each tooth is.
X-rays are another part of the tooth decay and cavity exam. They allow the dentist to see decay and cavities that have just begun to form. They are especially helpful 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. Moreover, it helps your dentist figure out what kind of treatment to use.
Periodontal probes look much like a sickle probe. However, they have a blunt edge, which is used to assess the state of your gums. Your dentist will use one to measure pocket depth, or the amount of space between your gum tissue and tooth.
The numbers your hygienist 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. This helps them 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. Therefore, it is crucial that you go in for a checkup on a regular basis.
Oral Cancer Exam
That blue light some dentists shine in your mouth comes from a VELscope. This is used to examine the mucous membrane (the oral mucosa) lining inside the mouth.
Any abnormalities in this area could be an early sign of oral cancer. If caught early through an oral cancer exam, there is a good chance minimal surgery will help prevent the cancer from spreading.
A Joint/bit exam 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 (TMJ), 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 a TMJ disorder. The exam will help the dentist identify the cause of the problem and figure out what type of treatment to use.
Teeth cleaning removes plaque and biofilm, which is a layer of oral bacteria that can stick to your teeth. The process also removes 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 exams 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?
Skipping the dentist increases your chances of developing potentially serious oral health problems. Remember, your dentist is trying to address issues before they become a threat to your health. If she succeeds, your two visits per year could be the only days you spend in the dental chair!
Read next: Dental Health Screening: Why Regular Checkups Help Protect More than Just Your Teeth