Why do most dentists want you to come in for a cleaning at least every 6 months?? While it might not seem like it is necessary, these regular and routine dental visits are
an essential requirement for monitoring and maintaining healthy teeth and gums. Early changes can be detected, and they can be addressed in a timely manner. Recent scientific research has also shown how important it is to maintain a healthy mouth for our general health as well. There are many disease states related to poor dental health. These systemic diseases include heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and even, alzheimer’s disease.
The Six Month Dental Visit
What goes on in the dental office is only a small portion of oral health maintenance. Most of the work is done at home through maintaining a good oral hygiene regimen to keep our teeth and gums as clean and healthy as possible. A six month dental visit will include a professional cleaning as well as a thorough dental examination. There are many facets to this appointment. Most people would be surprised at how many different items the dentist and hygienist are actually checking.
What Does The Dental Examination Include?
Your teeth are just one part of a routine, thorough dental examination. Your dentist will evaluate the health of your teeth, your gums, TMJ, and entire inner tissues of the mouth and upper throat. They will also examine your mouth, tongue, lips, and skin for any signs of disease, like oral cancer or diabetes.
The Head And Neck Examination
Your dentist will start off by looking for symmetry, irregularities, swellings, etc. by:
-Examining your face
-Examining your neck
-Checking your lymph nodes. They are specifically looking for any abnormal swellings or changes to one side and not the other. Also noting the presence of any tenderness.
-Checking your Temperomandibular Joint (TMJ) for any clicking, popping, or irregularities. As we age, the TMJ, like any joint can begin to deteriorate and give us issues. A good dentist will be able to note the presence of TMJ disorder even without symptoms developing.
The Teeth And Gums Examination
Next, your dentist examine the state of your teeth and gums by:
-Taking x-rays ( radiographs) as needed. Radiographs are generally taken once per year. These radiographs allow the dentist to see some areas that are not visible to the naked eye and are not felt by an instrument. This allows for early detection of tooth decay, as well as determination of infection, or bone loss. Unfortunately, fillings and crowns, depending upon location of breakdown, still hide many areas of decay or fracturing., Such areas are generally found later due to discomfort, discoloration, or other changes.
-Examining the gum tissue for the presence of periodontal disease, infection, systemic disease. The symptoms can include bleeding, inflammation, recession, redness and irritation, swelling, sloughing tissue, and bone loss around the teeth.
-Looking at the tissues inside of your mouth. This will include all sides of the tongue, the tonsils, the hard and soft palate, and inside your cheeks and lips. The dentist will look for tissue abnormalities that could be suspected to be oral cancer. Many dentists use the VELscope to detect oral cancer as early as possible. The VELscope is a special light that allows the dentist to see changes in tissue that occur when oral changes, such as cancer, are present.
-Checking the way your teeth fit together, how well you bite, if you clench or grind, signs of sleep apnea.
-Looking for the presence of tooth decay. This is achieved through the use of radiographs and by checking each tooth individually to see if there is any decay visibly, tactilely, or radiographically, present or beginning to form.
-Checking for broken teeth, fracture lines, chipping, wear.
-Checking for older dental restorations that need to be replaced. Generally when an older dental restoration begins to fail there is staining present around the margins where food and bacteria are leaking inside the restoration. Also, the dentist will examine any dental crowns present to check for decay and to see that the fit is still acceptable.
-Evaluating any previous dental appliances you might have. This can include retainers, nightguards, sport guards, dentures or snore/apnea appliances. The dentist will ensure they are still fitting properly and that they are in good condition.
The Dental Cleaning
The dental cleaning is generally completed by the hygienist but some dentists do clean teeth as well. This part includes the following:
-Checking the state of your teeth and gums.
-The use of an ultrasonic device to remove the pellicle, plaque, and tartar. The pellicle is a protein layer, much like a cuticle, that allows plaque and bacteria to more easily wick up and under the gum. The hygienist uses both an ultrasonic cleaning tool (called a cavitron) as well as using hand instruments. These tools allow the hygienist to remove substantial plaque and bacteria, and all of the pellicle, from above and below the gumline.
-Polishing your teeth with prophylaxis paste. This paste is slightly abrasive to remove any extrinsic stains that might be present. Polishing also helps to smooth surface roughness so that plaque will not stick as easily.
-Fluoride treatment. This is not just for kids! There are many types of fluoride with many different applications. Some of us are more susceptible to cavities, some of us have white spots, sensitive spots, or stubborn periodontal pockets. Different types of fluorides can help with all of these.
-Reviewing oral hygiene instructions for you to practice at home away, and from the office. This includes recommended brushing and flossing techniques as well as what products might work best for you.
Upon completion of the examination and cleaning, your dentist will be able to advise you of any further treatment needed. If nothing abnormal is found, you will set up your next appointment in 3- 6 month,s knowing you have been doing a great job at home with your dental care. If something is found, you should have it taken care of as soon as possible. You should try not to put off dental work, as it will get worse over time. Remember, by seeing your dentist every 6 months and following daily oral hygiene practices at home, you have a better chance of keeping your teeth and gums healthy. Being healthy will save you time, discomfort, and money in the long run. Prevention is always the goal!