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Dental Exam: Examining the Possibilities!

Dental Exam – Dental exams are a necessary part of oral health care.

By now you've probably heard that there's a correlation between dental health and overall health. Keeping your mouth healthy may actually decrease the risk of developing major medical problems, including heart disease and stroke. Your journey to achieving optimal health starts with a dental exam.

Everyone needs dental exams, even if you don't have teeth! Dental exams are used to check the overall health of your mouth, including your teeth, gums and jawbone. It's recommended you have a dental exam at least every six months and possibly more often if you have an ongoing dental problem such as periodontal disease. Children are expected to have their first dental examination by the time they reach their first birthday or get their first tooth -- whichever comes first!

Why Have a Dental Exam?

Dental exams are an important part of your preventive dental care plan. According to a Gallup-Healthways poll cited by USA Today, it's estimated that approximately a third of all Americans do not visit the dentist. It may be because they fail to understand the link between dental and overall health, they consider dental care to be optional or they feel that financially it's just not an option. But regular dental exams are necessary to help you maintain a healthy lifestyle. Think of a dental examination as maintenance for your teeth -- the way you maintain your car with oil changes. You wouldn't dare skip an oil change because you know what kind of problems it can cause your car. So why skip a dental exam?

In fact, dental exams are quite possibly the most cost-effective dental treatment you can have. Dental exams are designed not only for maintenance, but to diagnose and treat dental problems. Many dental conditions don't have noticeable symptoms. Skipping a dental examination can cause a minor dental problem such as a cavity turn into a costly dental treatment, such as a root canal.

What to Expect During Your Dental Exam

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.

Preparing for Your Dental Exam

With dental exams, there is nothing to fear -- a dental exam is relatively painless. But there are steps you can take to make your dental appointment run more smoothly. For your first dental examination, be prepared to provide your dentist with your full medical history, including any illnesses not directly related to the mouth. You'll also be asked to list your medications to help prevent the possibilities of drug interactions. It's important to be completely honest about tobacco, drug and alcohol use, as they could affect the outcome of your treatment. Tell your dentist if you're pregnant, as X-rays and some dental treatments are not recommended during pregnancy (if you are pregnant, dental exams are still necessary). For repeat visits, be sure to inform your dentist of any changes in prescriptions or your medical status. You may want to document any problems or areas of sensitivity you've experienced over the past several months so you don't forget to relay them to your dentist.

It's never too late to improve your dental health. Now that you know what to expect, it's time to set up that appointment!

To schedule your next dental exam, call us at 1-866-970-0441.

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