Dental exams are performed by general dentists. A dental examination consists mainly of a checkup and cleaning, but dental exams may vary depending on individual dental needs. For instance, dentists may spend more time looking for signs of tooth decay in children but gum disease in adults. During your dental exam, your dentist will perform a variety of tasks geared towards monitoring your dental health.
Here's what you can expect during a dental exam:
X-Rays -- X-rays are used to look for dental problems not visible to the naked eye, such as cavities between teeth. If it's your initial dental examination, full mouth X-rays are usually taken. X-rays are then taken periodically to "spot-check" problem areas. The FDA recommends that adults take a full set of X-rays every 2-3 years and children every 1-2 years. Those who are more prone to dental problems should have X-rays more often. X-rays are relatively safe but may be avoided if the patient is pregnant or has a history of exposure to radiation. If you're concerned about the safety of X-rays, you may want to discuss the possibility of using digital X-rays with your dentist.
Dental Cleaning -- During your dental exam, your dentist will scrape away tartar from your teeth and under your gums. Many dentists now use ultrasonic cleaning to remove more tartar at once. Afterwards your dental hygienist will polish your teeth. This is a great time for your dentist or hygienist to review brushing teeth and flossing techniques and let you know which areas of your mouth require more attention during your dental hygiene routine.
Dental Exam -- Your dentist will conduct a visual exam not only to check for current dental problems but also to determine your risk for future dental conditions. A dental examination may include probing problem areas with an instrument or using a laser to check for tooth decay. Your dentist will also review your dental X-rays to help diagnose dental problems.
Oral Cancer Screening -- Many dental exams now include oral cancer screenings. During your dental exam, your dentist will look for abnormalities in the soft tissues of your mouth and may examine the areas surrounding your jaw to check for symptoms of oral cancer. If your dentist finds a reason for concern, he or she may perform a biopsy of the area.
Once your dental examination is complete, your dentist will make a diagnosis and explore your treatment options with you. If needed, you may be referred to a specialist. If no problems are detected, you'll schedule your next six-month checkup. All together, your dental exam should only take about an hour, and most people can resume normal daily activities immediately upon leaving the dental office.